I. Theme – Offering all to God in faith
The Widow’s Mite – Daniel Bonnell
"He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’" – Mark 12:38-44
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Today’s readings challenge us to offer everything to God and to celebrate the fact that God similarly offers everything to us. All of these passages today remind us that we are called to step out in faith. This is not easy, but in order to see the greater picture, in order to understand more deeply the fullness of new life offered in Christ, we have to take the leap of faith and to trust God
This week’s lectionary readings deal with some of the most important energies of life- – the energy of romance, conception, and sexuality; the energy of money and its proper use; the energetic quest for God in a difficult time; and the energetic field of force created by Christ, the high priest of wholeness.
In the story of Elijah and the widow, from 1 Kings , God honors the sacrifice and faith of the woman with abundant oil and flour. The author of Hebrews assures us that Christ not only came to remove sin, but now, in God’s presence, intercedes on our behalf. In today’s gospel, Jesus praises the generous devotion of a homeless, penniless woman.
The Kings reading and the Gospel both examine widows. The poor widow in the Gospel only serves as an example of the Kingdom of Heaven contrasting the behavior of the Scribes (“who devour widow’s houses). Her giving is similar to that of the widow of Zarephath in that she gives all that she has. This time, however, she gives out of her own faith, a sign to Jesus of her salvation.
Old Testament – 1 Kings 17:8-16
Late in the 7th Century and some time in the mid 6th Century two individuals compiled materials that expressed the theological explanation and background to a history that begins with the death of David and is completed with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The theological point of view is akin or flows from the Deuteronomist who wrote around the same time. Originally, like the Books of Samuel, the Kings was one work, and was divided into two at the time of its translation into Latin. There are various sources evident in the books, such as: the “Book of the Acts of Solomon”, the “Annals of the Kings of Judah,” and “The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” which represent complete works. In addition there are references to the court history of David (mostly in Samuel), the history of the Temple and its debasement following its dedication under Solomon, an account of various kings, especially the religious reforms of Josiah, and some narratives from Jeremiah. The books have an almost circular theme of Promise, Apostasy, Judgment, and Return.
The prophet Elijah addressed the northern kingdom, Israel, in the middle of the ninth century BCE. He opposed King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who supported the worship of Baal and the other Canaanite divinities. Baal was reputed to be the god of rain and fertility. In judgment of Israel’s spiritual faithlessness and in a divine display of authority over creation, Yahweh caused a drought.
We read the story of Elijah meeting with the Widow of Zarephath. This was someone who had lost all hope, and when Elijah asks her for something to eat, her response is there isn’t much left, and she and her son were going to eat the last of it and wait to die. But Elijah tells her to step out in faith: make some food for Elijah first and then make some for her and her son, and she would see that God would provide. She steps out to trust God by trusting Elijah, and the food did not run out. In trusting Elijah’s word, and clinging to hope, she and her son survive.
Though she is not an Israelite, and therefore not a member of the covenant people, she receives the benefits of the covenant through her faith. She becomes a living rebuke to the faithless Israelites, and she receives the commendation of Jesus.
Psalm – Psalm 146
This psalm, along with four others, composes a final doxology that completes the Psalter. Some of the phraseology seems familiar, in that the psalm is drawn from psalms 103 and 104. This is a song reminding us to put our trust in God and in God’s faithfulness, not in earthly rulers.
Psalm 146 has the form of an individual thanksgiving but invites participation by the congregation. The promises of freedom and sight echo the signs of the expected Messiah.
The psalm begins with a note of praise and then quickly turns to a comparison of the God who brings life, and the human existence that always ends in death. The psalm calls for an unwavering trust in the lord’s goodness, power and sovereign reign in the midst of outwardly dark and painful conditions. As the psalmist in this reading exhorts himself, he exhorts his readers to praise God with their whole beings. The following verses then depict (in a style reminiscent of wisdom literature, and of some of the sayings of Isaiah) what it is that God does in the midst of the human situation. The psalm ends with a note of praise that is used in a prayer of thanksgiving in Acts 4:24.
Epistle – Hebrews 9:24-28
This reading stresses the superiority of Jesus’ sacrificial work to that of the Jewish high priest’s. Jesus’ work excels the other work by where, when and how it takes place. It is presented in the presence of God, not in an earthly temple.
Hebrews 9:24-28 reminds us that the fulfillment of Jesus’ life did not end at the cross, and was not over at Christ’s ascension, but that the fulfillment of Jesus’ role is the fulfillment of all time and creation, earth and heaven. It is not made repeatedly but “once for all at the end of the age” (v. 26). His offering is definitive and unique, as final as death.
His continuing work is definitive and unique – not a continual self-offering but the continual representation of and intercession for humanity.Christ came to end sacrifice, to end the violent cycle of human life and death. Christ’s work is not finished, but as we prepare for Advent, we are reminded that we are a people of hope, waiting for Christ to enter our lives in a new way and to reveal more fully the life promised us.
Gospel – Mark 12:38-44
This reading ends the series of Jerusalem controversy stories that conclude Jesus’ public teaching. The Gospel reading explores the energy of possession and money
Mark 12:38-44 reminds us again, more subtly, of Mark’s theme of “the first shall be last and the last shall be first in the kingdom of God,” in Jesus denouncing the actions of the scribes. We know that not all the scribes were conceited, for just in the previous passage it was a scribe that asked Jesus the question about the greatest commandment and in Mark’s Gospel, the scribe is genuinely curious, not trying to outwardly test Jesus but rather he is moved by Jesus’ response.
Today’s sayings indicate his inevitable breach with the scribes general approach. This reaction was especially significant in the light of the clash of the early Church with a Judaism grown defensive after the fall of the temple. Hypocrisy and oppression among the scribes will “receive the greater condemnation” (v. 40) since they should know better.
In this passage, Jesus contrasts the actions of many of the scribes with the action of a poor widow. Many widows in Jesus’ day, if they had no sons and no living father, ended up on the streets. This widow is very poor, but gives all she has to the temple treasury. And while others have put in great amounts of money, Jesus makes the claim she has given more, because she has given out of what she had to live on. Jesus calls us to give our lives to God, not just our money, not just our prayers, not just our talents, but all of who we are. This poor widow demonstrates that kind of faith and devotion. It’s not about one act or a set of actions, but about who we are and how we live our lives for God.
The sayings are linked to the story following—that of the widow and her gift—by the word widow (vv. 40, 42). Her self-giving is also a comment on the self-serving of the scribes. The widow gives out of her need rather than out of her surplus, offering her emptiness to God—an emptiness that indicates her capacity to be filled.
Those who feel troubled by the widow who gives all can find good news in recent interpretations of this gospel. Many scholars do not see it now as a “quaint vignette about the superior piety of the poor.” They are more inclined to see it as a scathing criticism of the system that exploits the poor.Jesus does not oppose wealth in this passage, but once again connects certain types of wealth-creation with injustice toward the vulnerable.
At the time Jesus leveled his criticism, the scribes, because of their reputation for piety, administered the estates of widows. Their compensation was a percentage of the assets, which led to widespread abuse and embezzlement. Rather than the traditional protection Elijah extended to the widow and orphan, the system exploited them. Theologian Ched Myers concludes in Binding the Strong Man, “The temple has robbed this woman of her very means of livelihood…As if in disgust, Jesus ‘exits’ the temple—for the final time.”
He leaves the corrupt state of Judaism to establish a new order. He was on his way to the cross, to lay down his life for those who had been trampled upon by religious codes and authorities. In his action, we see the futility of human systems and a hope, stated in the letter to Hebrews: “Christ…entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”
Thus, Christ intervenes for us on a plane beyond human tragedy. We are no longer merely driftwood tossed by continuous catastrophes. The world’s widows and orphans (and all who are spiritually or emotionally orphaned) have a high priest, who for love of them gives everything.
Jesus’ words beg the questions: Is our wealth-making supportive of the whole earth and our local communities? Does our wealth-making benefit the poor and vulnerable? Do we see wealth as an “end” or a “means” to creating good lives for ourselves and others? If our occupations reflect sustainability and justice-making, then we can live by Wesley’s maxim: make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
The wealthy are always among us, and these days it seems as if the gap between the wealthy and the general populace is expanding. Such a gap is socially unhealthy, according to the Hebraic prophets, because it immunizes the wealthy from the struggles faced by those who live from paycheck to paycheck, through no fault of their own, and those who must depend on the generosity of strangers for their very survival. Jesus lauds an impoverished woman, because she gives everything she has. For reasons we will never know, she places the totality of her meager savings at God’s disposal. The energy of her generosity radiates through the ages and inspires us toward a creative generosity in our time.
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – 1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm – Psalm 146
Epistle – Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel – Mark 12:38-44