Jesus and the disciples are sitting in the vicinity of where people come to give their offerings at the temple. They are casually watching the activity around the offering box . . . they witness rich people coming in and making big offerings--throwing in a big chunk of change . . . and, they are impressed. Yet, at the same time they witness a widow who comes and throws in what little she has . . . well, actually all she has. He praises the actions of this woman. Jesus commends her for giving. As followers of Jesus who are witnessing this event many generations later, we are impressed with the widow's giving and laud her as a generous individual. And, as far as we can tell from the writer of Mark's gospel, so do the disciples.
But . . . wait a minute!
This isn't the whole story! Didn't we hear about more than just the widow's generosity in our reading this morning? Yes, we did. In the first half of our reading this morning we heard Jesus condemn the leaders of the law . . . condemn those who were the ones in power and control . . . those who were in power. Jesus pointed out that they were hypocrites more concerned with image than substance . . . more concerned with status than actually living up to the spirit of the law. Jesus condemned them. Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Those sound pretty much like words of condemnation.
These individuals . . . this group that Jesus is referencing . . . are the ones who control and run the temple. They are the ones who make the decisions. They are the temple. I don't think there is a real argument there. Yet, if this is the case . . . then isn't the offering--the money, that the widow is making . . . isn't that going to support those Jesus just condemned? And, if it is, isn't that a pretty stupid thing to do? To support the ones who continue to oppress you? Isn't there a contradiction taking place here? On the one hand, Jesus is condemning the powers to be--all the bigwigs, while praising the widow for supporting them. Isn't that a contradiction?
Okay, maybe I am missing the point here. True, what the widow gives is more than what the so-called important people give. That is nothing new. It has been happening since the time churches and temples began taking offerings. Research has shown--for many decades now, that those in the lowest income brackets have always given more of their income than those in the higher tax brackets . . . . percentage wise those in the lowest tax brackets have always given more of their income to the church and charity than those making much, much more. Research proves this time after time. Those who can least afford it, always put more in the plate than those who can afford it. Yes, the rich put more in the plate, but the poor put a greater percentage of their overall wealth into the plate. To this Jesus offers praise.
To the others he offers condemnation: “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Simply put . . . the widow's offering goes to support the one thing that is oppressing her. Is Jesus talking out of both sides of his mouth in this passage?
I doubt it.
Instead I think that Jesus raises a conundrum . . . raises something we should think about . . . especially as the church . . . as the “body of Christ". What he raises for us to consider is the foolishness of faith.
Think about it . . . is it not foolish to think that giving money to the organization that squishes you--in hopes that it will help you--is foolish? Especially in light of the fact that even Jesus can see that those in control are stealing, cheating, and ignoring those they are suppose to be helping. So, why keep supporting them? Jesus even says that those in control are not doing the job . . . not living up to the call of God . . . the call of God to serve . . . to love others . . . to love God and God's ways.
Woe be to those who do this!
And, woe be to those who practice this foolishness of faith. No, they will not end up in the fiery punishment of hell . . . but, at the same time, they are not ever going to get what they need or what they believe. No, what they are going to get is a whole lot of frustration.
Yes, Jesus praises the faith of the widow; yet, at the same time he raises the question of blinded loyalty to that which is believed to actually help. One would think that of all the places that should help the widow in the story that it would be the temple . . . but how could the temple ever help others when it was so centered on itself and how it looked to the world around it? In this situation, the temple becomes the pawn in the hands of those who are in control.
The call of God is really quite simple. Jesus explained it to us time after time. The call of God is to love the Lord completely . . . to love God with all that we are created to be . . . to love God wholly and holy. The call of God is to love others . . . to love others as God loves us . . . to love others as we love ourselves. Boiled down into simpler terms, the call of God is to love. When we love we care about the others in our lives that we encounter . . . we want what God wants for them. We want to be family in its truest sense.
In such love we are not concerned how we look to the rest of the world. No, we are only concerned how we look to God and to those we serve out of love . . . to those we are helping. In such love we do what we have to do. We are not the center of attention, we are only the conduit of God. And, because this is the case, shouldn't we pause for a moment and consider what it is that we are truly offering to God and others?
The widow was a person of faith. She believed in God . . . she believed in what God's earthly manifestation represented--God's presence in the world . . . and, she whole-heartedly supported it with all that she had. She did it even though the reality showed that it did not care one iota about here or her station in life. The widow had faith . . . even though it was nothing more than a foolishness of faith.
She was a woman betrayed. Those who betrayed her would pay a heavy price for their actions. As Jesus said, "Woe be to them!"
These are words of warning to those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. Words that implore us to look at our own faith . . . our own actions . . . as people who follow Jesus. Are we like the ones Jesus condemns . . . more image than substance? Are we providing that which we claim we provide as the followers of Jesus? Or, are we just going through the motions, saying what people want to hear, and totally ignoring the fact that we really are not serving anyone or anything but ourselves? Are we like the teachers of the law?
I don't know.
What I do know is that we need to consider what we think we are . . . to consider that and put it up against what we are actually doing? Are the two congruent? Do the words that we proclaim line up with what we do? Are we fooling ourselves?
I don't know. Only God knows. In the end . . . God will let us know. Let aus not allow ourselves to fall into the foolishness of faith. No, let us demand of ourselves that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts truly line up with the actions of our lives. Amen.