Proper 27, Year B, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

The widow’s mite.

We all know this story from The Gospel of Mark.  It is a sweet parable about sacrificial giving, right?  A little old lady gives all that she has to the Lord.  If only we were all so faithful.   The end.

But the story of the widow’s faithful giving is not a parable.  The story of the widow’s mite is the story of deep faithfulness in the midst of intense corruption, faithfulness in such stark contrast to the bankrupt morality of religious leaders that even Jesus himself notices.

Jesus comes into Jerusalem, heading toward his death.  He sees a temple full of people selling doves and banking, taking advantage of people in the holiest site of all of Jewish tradition.  The very presence of Jesus’ Father rests in this temple and instead of worshiping, the people try to profit.

Jesus is horrified.  Jesus is disgusted.  Jesus is furious.  He starts yelling and tossing tables around the room, and throwing people out of the temple.  His rage overcomes him.

This is no parable.  This is no calm teaching moment.  This is Jesus at his most real, most vulnerable.

Pharisees and Saducees come to him, trying to trip him up and catch him in a blasphemy or a lie so they can have them killed.  He tells them parables then, but not sweet parables about how to live into the Kingdom of God.  Oh no, these are parables about tenants who murder a landowner’s Son.  We are in a dark, dark place in this story.

Jesus has spent several days battling with these religious leaders, these men who were supposed to be upholding everything Jesus’ Father had started.  In our reading today, Jesus calls out the scribes for wanting the best of everything, and taking advantage of widows to do it.

Jesus must be completely deflated.  He has walked into what should be the heart of his Father’s kingdom of earth, the holiest of all holy places, and it is completely vacant of any virtue.

And so he sits.  Maybe he is tired, maybe he just needs to take it all in.  Maybe he needs to brace himself for what is to come.

But instead of seeing more corruption, instead of seeing more greed, instead of seeing yet another betrayal of his Father, he sees an ordinary woman make an ordinary decision to donate a few pennies to the treasury.

But in the larger context, in the middle of the giant mess the Temple had become, the woman’s act is revolutionary.  The corruption might have been everywhere, but this woman defied its pressures.  The widow faithfully donated to the treasury despite  the fact that scribes were taking advantage of women exactly like her.  The widow donated faithfully despite all the opportunities for scheming and money making all around her.  The woman donated faithfully, because it was the right thing to do.

And Jesus notices.  Think of all the people walking around the Temple.  Think of the hundreds of people going about their business.  In Jesus’ stressed state, it would have been easy for him to not really pay attention to what anyone was doing.  But this woman’s simple faithfulness jumps out at Jesus.

Jesus is no longer speaking to crowds.  Jesus is just talking to his disciples, those partners in ministry who have been following him for three years.  What if this little moment is remembered both in Mark and Luke because of the intensity of Jesus’ reaction to this moment of faithfulness?  What if he teared up and leaned forward and gripped Peter’s arm and said, “See that?  Over there?  That’s what gives me hope.  That’s what reminds me of why I came here.  That’s what gives me courage to face what I’m about to face.”

The widow somehow has a moral center, a faithful center that guides her even when external circumstances would bend the morality of the most straight laced person.  And the widow isn’t alone.  She is one of many people donating to the treasury.  She is one of many people willing to make a sacrifice to honor God.

The widow donating her two pennies is an ordinary act, in the midst of an extraordinary situation.  The God of the Universe is across a courtyard and she has no idea.  The God she is serving is actively watching her serve.  And he is not only approving of her, but he is moved by her.

We may not always realize it, but God is with us, too.  Even after a brutal election cycle when we watched obscene amounts of money spent and terrible vitriol spoken.  Even in the midst of the chaos caused by a storm so fierce many people still don’t have homes or power or their ordinary, faithful lives back.  Even in the midst of welcoming a new Archbishop of Canterbury and wondering what it means for our denomination.

Life is full of chaos and corruption and institutional sin.  But in the midst of all the yuck, there are still signs of hope, like a faithful widow giving her two last coins to God.  If you follow our Diocese’s Facebook page you’ll see all the ways faithful, ordinary Christians are stepping up to help one another after the storm. Every time someone donates a coat, loans a truck, houses someone without power, they are standing up for all that is right and good about our world.  They are choosing to live in the Kingdom of God, rather than the selfish and corrupt kingdoms of this world.

And every person who waited in line to vote, sometimes for hours, was a reminder that despite alleged attempts to suppress votes, people of every political philosophy care about this country, took responsibility, and took a small action that enabled our country to have another free and fair election.

We look for heroes.  We look for the people in power to show us how to live, what choices to make.  But the widow teaches us that even if we are in a situation where there are no heroes, God empowers each of us to retain our dignity, to live into Kingdom values, to offer the small things we can offer in order to honor God and one another.

And we may not feel like we are making much a difference and may feel overwhelmed and helpless by the corruption or destruction we see around us, but God is with us. God gives us the power to remember who we are and whose we are.  God gives us the power to be like the widow, a person of honor and integrity, regardless of circumstance.

And you never know when God will be just across the courtyard, watching in pleasure as you do the right thing.

Thanks be to God.

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