St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church
Diocese of New Westminster
Anglican Church of Canada
Wednesday 7:00 pm
November 11th Advent 1, 2018 John Marsh
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
“Beware the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and to be greeted with respect in the market places and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. (Mark 12:38-40)
Jesus’ critique, while perhaps not a complete shock to the disciples, would have nonetheless been a bracing jolt to their system; as with all common folk, the disciples would have long been accustomed to showing deference to scribes, priests and temple authorities.
After the warning about the scribes, there arrives on the scene – a woman – a widow who is more of an enigma than she may seem…
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. (Mark 12:41-42)
Of her, I doubt that she was one high born or well married…
Whatever promise her life may have held had been devoured by circumstance - death and subsequent tough times, if not outright poverty, had stripped whatever possibilities remained in her life.
All that was left to her was the passion of faith; amidst her poverty, hers was life, perhaps centred on god, at the very least, a life hoping against hope…
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 12:43-44)
However, with her life now noted, with her story told and with her life lionized a shift occurs - she becomes in the re-telling a ‘stewardship saint’ – an icon of faithfulness, of generosity, of one relying totally on ‘God’ and of giving everything she had.
And yet, the more she is held up as an ideal, the less she becomes as a person…
As she is reduced to a religious role model for us to emulate – meaning, of course for us to give 10% of our money (is that gross or net?) or maybe 5% or maybe to increase our giving by the cost of a coffee a day or a week - she becomes little more than a morality tale that barely functions.
But, is this all the widow is - a ‘stewardship saint’?
If we broaden our focus, the widow, who ‘has put in everything she had’ (see Mark 12:44b), is contrasted with the scribes who ‘devour widow’s houses.’ (See Mark 12:40)
You can almost hear Jesus say of the widow, “Do you see what I mean!”
To my mind, the widow is an example of one devoured, one exemplifying prophetic denunciations of ignoring ‘widows and orphan’s’, denunciations of religious and political pretense, an embodiment of an unjust and profoundly inequitable system…
She is the human face of the cracks within conventional society, the face of all who fall through the cracks, the face of the human cost of social indifference…
The point isn’t just that she has given her all but that others – the scribes, the priests, and the temple authorities – have not given at all!
As Isaiah says:
Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them. (Isaiah 1:23b)
Perhaps to call the widow either a saint or a victim is to obscure and minimize her; perhaps she should be seen as less holy but more human and ultimately more real.
Yes, she has fallen through the cracks yet, as Leonard Cohen says,
There is a crack in everything
With her now so illumined, perhaps she can be cast in a different light…
Yes, she has been devoured but she is more than her ‘reduced’ circumstances; she is more than any see her to be, more than an icon, more than a victim, more than definition requires…
She is a woman with a story…
Dare I say, she is a complex woman, a woman, who in her complexity responds impossibly, one with whom god may not be finished…
She is a woman who has paid a high price yet still lives, still contributes; she has hope but not without pain….
In her pain there is perhaps still promise, in her loss there is still life…
She has been stripped of almost all but there is still something to share and in that sharing hope probes ever onward…
And in that probing, there arises the possibility that the scribes, that the temple authorities may finally come to hear the prophet’s accusation that:
‘The widow’s cause does not come before them.’ (Isaiah 1:23b)
There arises the possibility that in hearing, they will respond to the prophet’s call:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
learn to do good;
There arises the possibility that pretence may yet succumb to divinity’s call:
Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this; you shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no greater commandment. (Mark 12:29-31)
If one scribe can get it right – “You are right, Teacher… this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (See Mark 12:32a, 33b) - then maybe others can move to embrace the reign of god, to respond to an impossible call.
Maybe we can move to more fully embrace the reign of god…
Maybe we can live ‘All in’ with the impossibility of the reign of god…
Over the last few weeks, the gospel of Mark has presented a struggle of sorts about whether one is ‘in’ or ‘out’…
The rich young man went away grieving because of his wealth - he was out! (See Mark 10:22)
James and John are in but only if they get their promotion to the side of Jesus in eternity. (See Mark 10:35-45)
Bartimaeus, he’s in. (See Mark 10:46-52)
And the widow she’s in as well.
And so the question arises: Are you in or are you out?
In answering, we need to realize that the question is not asked ‘once and for all’; it is a question which respects our humanity which is to say a question asked repeatedly.
We need to realize that the question is not simply about our money or lack thereof; it’s not about our standing in the community or about the role we play in society; it’s not about whether we are lawyers, priests, landowners or victimized widows.
It’s about whether we are risking living ‘all in’; it’s about whether we love from the perspective of the reign of god, about whether we see, hear and think from the perspective of god’s reign, about whether we work from the perspective of a new world order, about whether we risk from the perspective of a new heaven and a new earth in which the last will be first, in which the uninvited will be welcomed, in which enemies will be loved and not judged, in which hospitality and compassion will be the order of the day…
In the end, it’s about whether we are willing to struggle with what it means for us to be ‘all in’, refusing to let go until you, until we are blessed! (See Genesis 32:22-31)
¹ From the song, ‘Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen.