Mark 12:38-44 (see below)
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today brings into focus what may be, consistently, one of the most important truths found in Holy Scripture. We can understand what I mean by hearing the LORD’s justification to the Old Testament Judge Samuel for refusing Eliab to replace the disgraced King Saul:
But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7 NRSV)This profound truth should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, but it probably will not have that result. So set are we in our understanding that we are right in all things and the cream of GOD's world, the notion we might actually have such need in our hearts that would call us to repentance would significantly shock most of us. I say this in love, but I’m afraid it must be said. Often the last time many of us repented and returned to the LORD was that very day we first decided to follow the Jesus-way!
Anyway, by focusing on today’s text I think we see Jesus, after a long ongoing struggle with the religious leaders -- who are doing their best to trip him up so as to accuse and kill him -- has had enough. He's had enough of their feigned spirituality and their power that gushes pride. He’s had enough of their power lorded of the people, and so, as a good pastor would, Jesus attempts to warn the people against being taken in by these false, ineligible Religious:
"Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.And then, as if to make the point with power, St. Mark contrasts these Religious with a widow, a widow these Religious may have themselves devoured:
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury...A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents...For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."In today’s Gospel reading, St. Mark offers us three ideas through contrasting the Religious with the Widow that must not escape our notice:
A DIFFERENT WAY OF SEEING
A DIFFERENT WAY OF BEING
A VIEW OF A DIFFERENT OUTCOME
A DIFFERENT WAY OF SEEING
We begin by unpacking the truth already mentioned: GOD does not see as we see. In the Religious from today’s text we have a picture of the worldly-wise, the powerful, and those who are conspicuous in their use of wealth. These men are the religiously powerful, the politically connected, the rule-makers and policy enforcers. They are the dominant and those, at least in their own minds, who deserve emulation and devotion. But, Jesus warns, they are not what they seem.
In fact, in one such rendition of this confrontation St. Matthew's Jesus calls them white-washed tombs (Mt.23:27). That is, they seem beautiful on the outside, but inwardly they are filled with corruption. Again: GOD does not see as we see. Or, better said, he sees what we do not!
Now, think of the widow. Her purpose to her husband was gone. Her poverty bespeaks a lack of support, perhaps she is alone in the world, even without children to help her. So, what do we see when we look at her? We see weakness; we see poverty. Perhaps we even see her as insignificant and irrelevant. We see a little person in a little place. She is someone easily overlooked. But Jesus does not overlook her...
So, here’s the question: What does GOD see when looking at the widow? GOD sees her heart, a heart of giving and sacrifice, and a surprising willingness to deny self. Jesus says of her:
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”St. Paul also places on the map this same understanding of Jesus when he writes:
25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor.1:25-29)
A DIFFERENT WAY OF BEING
Now, having said that, we ask what must we learn from St. Mark’s examples set side by side -- the Religious and the Widow? From this different way of seeing -- people look on the outward appearance, but GOD looks on the heart -- we must learn that there is a different way to be a person in this world, a different way that leads to true humanness.
First, in order to find this different way we must be self-aware in order to self-assess. That is, we must be honest with ourselves about ourselves. Or, said differently still, we must see ourselves not from the perspective of our own resume, but instead as GOD sees us. And, when looked at ourselves from this angle we find the same internal corruption that has completely violated the human condition existing within our own hearts as well. This means we are all of us sinners, first by nature and then by choice. And this condition continues to plague us even after we embark on the Jesus way. We are sinners still; but we are forgiven sinners.
So, what then is this different way of being? The reality of our own ongoing sinfulness calls on us to live in humility. The primary contrast I see between the Religious and the Widow in the text is their humility. The Widow in her poverty seemingly knows her weakness, but the Religious do not. These Religious are as weak as the Widow, but they do not see what they really are, and that is their primary failure.
Here we are reminded of Jesus words from St. Luke’s Gospel, chapter 18, concerning a different Pharisee and a different Sinner:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
A VIEW OF A DIFFERENT OUTCOME
Finally, then, when we contrast these two different examples that St. Mark lays before us -- the Religious and the Widow -- we see two very different outcomes envisioned. Of the Religious Jesus says: “They will receive a very severe condemnation...” and of the Widow, while not explicitly stated, the implication is commendation and approval from Jesus.
From this I want us to simply remember that which I have stated from this pulpit many, many times: It matters greatly how you live. Or, said differently, what we do really matters, sending out ripples that never cease.
If we would but practice this one truth in our walk with Christ, how it would increase our impact for the Master and the Kingdom, especially in our families and our places of employment. If we could see that our contribution to the Kingdom occurs not only in the big moments, but chiefly in the small, seemingly insignificant moments, especially in how we disciple and discipline our children, in how we speak to each other about each other, in how we live toward the weak and the poor, and in how we see ourselves in the Kingdom, either mighty or humble.
This demands a humility of thought and action, a humility that only comes from the ever-present reminder that we are truly fallible, sinful, genuinely poor (no matter what our level of wealth) and greatly in need of the LORD’s daily grace.
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
"Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood."