A sermon on Mark 12.38-44, and 1 Kings 17.8-16
The second part of the Gospel reading today, I assume is familiar to many of you. The passage, often referred to as the "Widow's Mite," or "The Widow's Offering," is kind of a token scripture for Stewardship Sunday.
Often, with this reading we discuss giving. We life up the widow's giving because she gave all that she had, while we seem to condemn the rich for not giving all they had.
I'm going to boldly claim,
that this isn't the point of the story at all.
Often, when we read about widows in the Bible, they're paired with orphans.
Since women were really only recognized with the men they were attached to,
either as daughters or wives, widows and orphans were people in that society who not only had nothing,
but had no access or opportunity for anything better.
There was no shot at a better life.
There was survival in extreme poverty,
and there was death.
I know this sounds harsh. I know it does.
But that's because I want you to understand what Jesus is really talking about here.
Jesus, too, would have found this harsh, and horrible.
Remember this is the same Jesus that reverses the status quo, turns the world upside down,
and tells us that the first will be last, and the last will be first.
So you can understand, that he would certainly have a problem with this.
So Jesus points to the scribes.
These people held highly respected offices in the temple.
In an ideal world, those in respected offices, those with power,
would use that respect and power to better the lives of the people around them.
(A utopia we can certainly relate to.)
What Jesus points out here is that this is definitely not the case.
It would appear that the scribes enjoy all of the perks of their office,
good seats for worship and parties...
But while saying long and impressive prayers for those in need,
they devour widow's homes for the financial sake of the temple...
Leaving the widow with nothing.
In the second half of the gospel reading, Jesus says nothing about being angry at the rich.
He just identifies that they five out of their wealth.
The problem clearly lies with the fact that the widow has given all she had to live on.
This is one of those times where it would be much easier if we had received recordings of Jesus' teaching,
because I believe his vocal inflection would have left us with less confusion.
We often read here, in light of the message of stewardship, that Jesus is happy about the Widow's offering.
That he loves that the widow has given so much.
I think Jesus is really angry.
The problem is this:
If the widow, by giving her two coins, has given all she had to live on,
it means that she only had two coins to live on in the first place.
The Temple is called to care for the widows and orphans,
yet the widow, has been left with close to nothing,
and even what she did have, she was obligated to give to the treasury
(which, paid the salary of the scribes, and paid for the large, elaborate, temples).
Jesus is pointing at a corrupt system that puts poverty over people.
Instead of caring for the people of God,
those neighbors that they're called to love,
the scribes, instead, care about looking and acting important,
being treated extremely well, and using the treasury to pay for earthly things.
If we read on, from the Gospel text, just a little further, we see how Jesus feels about this as well.
Mark 13: As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
The buildings, including the temple, are temporary earthly things.
And while Jesus here, is predicting the fall of the temple that happens after his crucifixion, we understand that property over people is not an understanding Jesus will put up with.
So now that I've explained why this passage isn't really about giving money,
let me explain why this passage is still absolutely about stewardship.
When we align stewardship with the word money, and only the word money,
we are limiting the power of being good stewards.
Because at the root of the definition of stewardship, thee's the practice of taking care of,
taking care of someone or something.
We steward land.
We steward relationships.
We even steward ourselves.
I want to tell you a story about Betty.
Betty is a member of Elim in Fargo, where I serve as an intern.
Betty's mother died a few years ago, she had been her caretaker for the last years of her life.
After her mother passed, Betty began caring for some of the older members of Elim,
most, if not all of them, widows.
She gives them rides to church and church events,
She helps them to their seats at worship, and stows their walkers.
And I know that she does other favors for them throughout the week.
The congregation knows her as a caregiver.
Many of the women she helps call her "their angel."
If I were telling Betty's story at Elim this morning, Betty would be bright red by now.
She does all of this with tremendous humility, and with inspiring passion.
Betty is a wonderful, beautiful example of what it means to be a good steward of God's people.
We're called to care for people.
To help those who need us.
In the first reading today, we heard a story about a widow that used what she had left to help feed a hungry Elijah.
God would not let her give and be left with nothing. In fact, where she and her household were about to starve to death, they instead ate for many days from what they had.
When we give from what we have to help care for those who have not,
we're living out the love Jesus commanded of us.
Whether that's giving of earthly things like money or supplies or donations,
or it's giving time to hear someone's pain,
or it's giving of your talent to make food for the hungry,
or it's your hand to help someone up,
we give out of love,
because we are loved by a God who loves us.