Taking the Widow Seriously Mark 12: 38-44
This reading really picks up from what I said last Sunday at Caversham… I talked about the Most Important Commandment – Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And I spoke of this attraction called love as a form of giving – giving yourself.
And this week Jesus give us an example, a very striking, perhaps too striking an example – the widow who gave everything. Did she really give everything she had? Is it a good idea to give away your life and make yourself dependent on others? Perhaps the story exaggerates; perhaps she just gave away what she had for that week’s food? Surely Jesus wouldn’t condone such recklessness? Does she have no concern for those who will feel obliged to pick up the pieces of her life, now that she has given all her resources away? Shouldn’t she be realistic about the consequences of her actions? Shouldn’t she realize that what she has done will not do anyone any good really – just create more social chaos? Does she not realize that all she will do is put more money into the coffers of the rich religious leaders Jesus has just been criticizing. That’s a very rational question to ask – a very rational response….
Let’s begin by recognizing that we feel uncomfortable about this passage. Jesus does not make it easy for us. The thing about the women is that she gave everything. That’s her hidden truth.
Perhaps we should begin by acknowledging that realistically speaking we are not going to go out from this place and give all our money and savings to the first poor person we encounter, or donate it to Oxfam or put it in the offering plate. Probably because we don’t believe it would be the right thing to do. Perhaps we should acknowledge that… Perhaps it’s the truth… that it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.
But wouldn’t we be missing the point? Wouldn’t that acknowledgement be just a little too easy for us? We have come here to hear the Word of God not to be comfortable.
I’m not sure that’s the point of the story… that we should all go and do what the widow did… the point is less simple, but no less challenging.
Let’s think about the context for a moment. Two stories are placed together. Let’s imagine the scene… in the temple… up the front are the leaders all in a row with flowing robes bright colours and high hats (whatever they wear – imagine it how it was in your childhood bible story books), There’s probably quite a bit of noise and activity in the temple. The prayers are being recited above it all. The dealers are in the background. What we call politics, religion and economics are all merged together here. Jesus is also in the background observing and talking quietly with his disciples, his eyes light up with passion as he talks of the leaders who do what they do for status and public profile and who rip off the poor, especially widows…
And then we immediately cut to scene within a scene – a poor widow arriving and shuffling up the queue to make her offering. She is a member of these dispossessed victims – a widow – offering up all she has. What is the poor widow thinking as she walks up in the line of givers? How does the coin feel in the widow’s pocket?
Jesus says “Look, here’s an example”. The group around Jesus turn their heads in her direction. Just as Jesus has been talking about the injustice of this world and the hypocrisy of its leaders… enter a woman who represents, in her person, the victims of it all. Jesus says… the truth is, the others in the queue have money to spare for their offering. She has nothing but what she is giving.
Who is this woman? Is she herself a victim, of her own self-destruction, or religious guilt? Or is she the only free person?
[pause for reflection – share in groups what crossed your mind]
We could speculate about her… But it would only be speculation.
We want to jump into the story and say to her, don’t do it, don’t give your money away to those hypocrites, look after yourself, protest against the system, stand up for your rights. But those possibilities don’t feature in our story… All we have is an irrational act of total self-giving. Why?
The cynic in us says, she must be bound up in guilt… but why would we let the cynic within us determine the purpose of Jesus story… Jesus points out to us a women who not only gives up everything… but who does so, in contrast to the religious leaders, as an example of someone who gets no recognition, because her gift is small. When in fact she has given away everything… And so we also discover that she even gave away the reward that comes from being recognized for having been generous… There’s the rub.
Why such extremism about faith? Here’s where our story links with last Sunday. Faith is extreme because it is a matter of love… and love is not about rational response as we usually know them.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul and strength and mind”. The widow is not simply an example for us to go out and imitate in an identical manner… the widow is an example of someone who loves God with all her heart and soul and strength and mind… with no interest in recognition.
Either the world is driven by the freedom to give, which flows from God’s very self, or it is driven by the fears which end up taking from others, the fears drive us to secure our status…and our power… BUT if some of us give in ways that make us vulnerable what good will that do anybody?
Discussion point: What of we likened the poor widow in our story to our little country going to Copenhagan to make our donation to the future of the planet? [discuss]
What does it mean if a small country like NZ decided to take a lead in reducing carbon emissions at Copenhagen, in bearing the cost of the environmental crisis?… What if we, like the widow, gave away what we had? Would that be a good thing? It’s certainly an unlikely scenario isn’t it? I can’t imagine it happening, I certainly can’t imagine it happening without us taking the credit (in contrast to the anonymity of our widow).
You see in her own way the widow provided an example of Jesus own life… into shame and ignominy, killed as a criminal without even the recognition of his giving… Were it not for the resurrection the world as usual would remain… the Pharisees in their flowing robes and the roman soldiers with their swords and spears would continue to represent politics and religion as usual…
When Jesus tells us the truth about this widow, it’s like God raising Jesus from death. Here is the truth about the world! Here is the truth about God! Even if very few listen, and everything appears the same, in truth, nothing is ever the same again.
The truth about the world is that we are likely, like the leaders in their flowing robes, to destroy this planet and the third world… weather conditions will get more extreme, thousands more will die in Tornadoes in the Philippines and so on.
This is the truth about the world… but it is a truth which has come out of hiding. And in the midst of the world-as-usual there is a witness to another world. God who is different, has interrupted… and there are those who have drunk at the same well as the widow, for whom death has lost its sting. I wonder if any widows will get to Copenhagan?
Bruce Hamill (Caversham Café Church 5.11.09)