Sermon; 25 Pentecost/Proper 27B; Mark 12:38-44
Mark is a Passion narrative with an extended prologue. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Does anybody remember what I said about that story – not necessarily the content of the sermon (which would be nice), but about the story?
I said that this was the last healing story in Mark's gospel, and that this is the final ministry story before Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. In Mark, the Passion narrative begins with Chapter 11. It's hard to tell exactly where we are in that week, but today's story might be taking place on Tuesday.
Today we have two stories that revolve around worship and discipleship. Jesus is hanging out at the temple teaching the people and watching the goings on, and two episodes crop up. The first is his teaching and warning against the scribes.
In the temple Jesus sees the scribes decked out in all their finery and he knows what motivates them. And what motivates them is personal prestige.
We've all known or seen people like this: people who care more for what the position can bring them than what the role of their position actually is. Career politicians come to mind. But it's not just politicians. It's cops who feel entitled because they wear a badge. It's doctors and lawyers. It's clergy and televangelists. It's people who want to be photographed coming out of church. It's anyone who demands respect without giving respect in return. It's everywhere egos get in the way or take over.
When our ego takes over, when we become more focused on ourselves, then it's easy to ignore those whom we devour because we deserve what they have. And we make excuses for why they deserve to be devoured: they're lazy; they're moochers; they're on drugs; they're foreigner; etc.
Why do we do what we do, and what is our motivation? This applies not only to our lives in general, but it also applies to our worship. Are we more concerned with what we can get out of it, or are we more concerned with what we put into it? The scribes of Jesus' day, and many people today, were and are more concerned with what they got out of it.
After calling attention to the scribes and giving a lesson on proper behavior, Jesus sits down across from the treasury and does some people watching. I don't know if this was Ingathering Day at the temple or what, but Jesus is watching people make their offering.
We know the story – the wealthy are making large donations while the poor widow puts in two pennies. She is commended because, percentage-wise, she has given much more than any of the wealthy people have or ever will. She has given 100 percent of what she has while those around her are only giving two percent. It is a physical representation of the reversal that Jesus has been preaching.
And on this Ingathering Sunday it would be easy for me to question whether you were pledging in the two percent range or whether you were pledging a more significant percentage. It would be easy for me to ask if your pledge was really enough, or if you thought Jesus would be proud of your level of giving.
It would be easy; but I don't do guilt very well, nor am I the chair of the pledge campaign. So I'll leave it to you to ask and answer those questions for yourselves.
Aside from the money thing, remember that Mark is a Passion narrative and almost everything points us to the cross. The story of the widow also does this, even though it might not seem obvious.
This poor widow, who one can assume was one of the victims of abuse at the hands of the scribes and other temple officials (“They devour widows' houses”), gave up everything she had, including her last two cents. With nothing left, she probably expected to go home to die – much like the widow in our first lesson who, even though she was expecting to die, did not withhold from God.
But besides connecting this gospel story with the first lesson, today's gospel also connects to Jesus and the Passion. In this story the widow becomes a precursor, or a foreshadowing, of Jesus and the Passion.
The widow has been abused by those in power – like Jesus will be abused by those in power. She gives up her last two cents; in a very real way, she gives up her life to follow God. In a few days, Jesus will also give up everything, his very last and his very life, to follow God.
So yes, today is Ingathering Sunday. Yes, we are asking about financial commitments. I will never ask anyone to put themselves at financial or personal peril in order to pledge to the church. But what I will do is ask you to seriously and honestly examine your commitment to the church and to God.
Are we giving, from the abundant gifts we have been given, only a small percentage to God? Or are we giving in thankful proportion to what we have been given?
We give our best to our spouses, our families, our jobs, and our hobbies. The widow in the treasury challenges us to evaluate what we give to God. In his Passion, Jesus challenges us to evaluate what we give to God.
The question today's gospel asks us to consider is this: are we willing to put God first in our lives?