Touche from Jesus

Scripture: Mark 12:34-44

Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In my work this semester, I was reminded of the significance and power of “creative dislocation;” normally a term meant when stepping outside one’s routines to a new place, or a removed place, in order to focus on deeper meanings, for example, a retreat, mission trip, or unusual service opportunity.

After reading today’s passage in Mark and one of my favorite commentaries, I began to wonder if I could apply “creative dislocation” to Biblical study; not go read the Bible on retreat, or in the barrio or on a cruise per se; which never-the-less would be good for us anyway, but instead to take a familiar story in worship and “creatively dislocate” ourselves by shifting the lens we use to appropriate it. For example, reading today’s passage from Mark we might normally associate ourselves with the disciples: listening and watching Jesus as he unwraps the meaning of widow’s two coins. But what if instead, as commentator Emilie Townes writes,[1] we put ourselves into the story as the coins? Let me read that paragraph again, and then tell me if you hear a different message.

Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then 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. 44For 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.” You are a coin. Is the story or its message to you different?

(Facilitate congregational responses)

If we are the coins, then the offering becomes the focus of the story, not the sacrifice, as we often are drawn into thinking about. If offering becomes the focus of the text, and we are the coins being offered, then they represent nothing less than an offering of our whole self to God – with the belief that God will use us in all our humble states, and God’s work will indeed be done…in us and through us to our neighbors – the community, the world and even the earth itself – and all because we shift perspective just a little bit as we read the Bible and apply it just a little differently to our lives.

What if we shift perspective just a little bit more? What if we take these two small coins and assign them an additional meaning, say faith and belief?  With each of us offering all that we are to God, in addition to ascribing all our faith and all our belief, wouldn’t we become multiplied into a powerful force of good for the world, for God, for the sake of God’s kingdom?

“But, Pastor,” one might ask, “If we give all we are to God, what does that look like for us? Aren’t we doing all we can based on our circumstances in life?” An excellent question. What matters most in our culture and society right now may actually have closer ties to orphans and widows, sacrificial offering and even larger gifts given out of affluence than we might think.

Commentator Rodger Nishioka writes,

“Readers of this text must reflect seriously upon their own complicity in current systems of violence and oppression. But reflection alone is not enough. Reflection must lead to specific and sustained action by engaging spiritual practices that challenge political and economic systems in the church, the nation, and the world.

Feeding the hungry and providing clothing are important spiritual practices, but the church must come to view these practices as more than programs. The church must come to understand these practices as the very life flowing out of its worship. Further, the church must call all of society to care for the orphan, the widow, the resident alien, and the poor as its primary purpose, with all other governing and political functions as secondary. In this way, the church not only exhibits God’s righteousness but shapes a politic that is in itself righteous”[2] (my emphasis).

I confess that might be a little uncomfortable to hear. Yesterday Presbytery voted down a recommendation by General Assembly to limit the institutions of our denomination, or their representatives, from endorsing or speaking out against specific political candidates for public office. For centuries in our country, the Church has been a moral conscious that, on the political stage, has operated as a prophetic voice for the cause of the underserved. I am relieved that there are no muzzles as of yet placed upon us when, as may become necessary, the opportunity to speak into the collective conscious of this country again rises to the level of a needed prophetic voice for systemic change.

That does not mean we have the right to tell you how to vote. I think that would be irresponsible of my clerical office. But I do think a prophetic voice is necessary now and again to point out where Christ’s vision of the Kingdom of God has been compromised. In that vein, I will say God’s ethic of Love is being severely challenged by society right now, and all of our collective conscious – on both sides of the political fence – should feel a twinge moving forward. A twinge that I pray will cause all of us to think deeply about what it means to be members of God’s kingdom, living out heavenly principles as God’s witnesses on this, God’s good green Earth.

Putting that aside, let’s take one more look, through yet another lens, at today’s passage in Mark. I am convinced Jesus points out the widow’s offering like he does for a specific teachable moment. And it’s not the lesson we normally think it is. If Jesus is indeed “holding this widow up as a model for giving, then a key detail must be noted: Jesus calls his disciples to notice that this widow gives all that she has—literally, “the whole of her life” (Mark 12:44). She gives her whole life to something that is corrupt and condemned.”[3] Yes, corrupt and condemned. Jesus had some choice words concerning the Temple practices one chapter ago, calling it a “den of robbers.” Next chapter, he tells his disciples it is doomed, “not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.”

So what in the world is the lesson? Give sacrificially to this temporal structure that will be utterly destroyed anyway? That is not a very good stewardship Sunday kind of lesson, is it? On top of that at our upcoming Session meeting we will be forming our 2019 budget!

No, this is not a stewardship sermon. But this is a sermon that is nothing less than life and death, sacrifice and resurrection. The observation of the widow’s offering offers a glimpse, not into what our ethic concerning Church sustainability should be, but a glimpse into what Jesus is about. I submit to you Jesus himself is the widow. Regardless whether you stand in that stream or not now, through a traditional Reformed perspective,

“He is on the way to giving ‘the whole of his life’ for something that is corrupt and condemned: all of humanity, the whole world.”[4]

You and me. Once again, a change of lens changes the meaning, impact, and import of the scripture lesson and how it applies to our lives today.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Emilie Townes, “Theological Perspective, Mark 12:38-44” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Rodger Nishioka, “Pastoral Perspective, Mark 12:38-44” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Pete Peery, “Theological Perspective, Mark 12:38-44” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Ibid.

 

Questions for Reflection

What has God restored for you? Do you have enough faith to give when you have a little?

Household Prayer: Morning

Dear God,

Bless the labors of my hands today so that you might get the glory. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Gracious God, thank you for blessing me throughout the day. Please grant me a restful sleep, as I put my trust in you. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
This entry was posted in Conversation Starters, Encouragement, Sermon. Bookmark the permalink.

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