Today we continue toward the completion of our Pentecost season-long tour of the Gospel of Mark, with its many stories of healings and teachings of Jesus to his disciples and those around him. In today’s Gospel we hear about the story of the widow’s mite, along with Jesus’ warning to those in authority and leaders of the synagogue about being false with their lives and taking from those with little or nothing.
Does anyone know what a mite is? Our online universal source of all things, Wikipedia, say that “two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage. In our story, a widow donates two small coins, while wealthy people donate much more. Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant, but proportionately lesser, donations of the rich.”
Our Diocesan Stewardship Canon Lance Ousley wrote this week: “We witness the classic battle between the theology of scarcity and abundance. Our respective theological perspective either is oppressive and anxiety producing, or it is liberating and joy giving. And it rules how we respond in gratitude to God's providence as stewards of our blessings.
Widows had no real rights of inheritance in the ancient Middle Eastern context, which often left them poor unless they were able to remarry or had sons that provided for their well being. This set the backdrop for the patronage society at that time…The problem presented in the Gospel text is--the very ones who are supposed to be upholding the theology of abundance are operating in a theology of scarcity through their exploitation of the widows, as if there were not enough for themselves. Hence, Jesus' statement about the scribes "devouring widows' houses." The further irony is in Jesus' statement that the others had contributed to the treasury our of their abundance, while the widow had contributed our of her poverty (scarcity). Yet in her poverty, she lived with a theology of abundance giving all that she had to meet the needs of others and her religious obligations. But the Scribes who managed the treasury established for the care of the needy were keeping much of it for their own use as they lived into a theology of scarcity. Where is the joy in that when others go hungry?”
At St. Mark’s I believe we operate with the principle of abundance. A couple of simple examples are these: we do not have a coffee kitty for everyone to contribute to each Sunday to pay for treats, and we buy the Forward Day by Day books for anyone to take and use. Many churches ask people to separately pay for these, even though they also pledge and give a lot of money already. That would be acting in scarcity!
What does this talk about abundance and scarcity mean to us? In this time of struggle for many people to just get by, there are many stories of those who have little helping others who also have little. We have heard about this from Sarah about her friends on the streets of Aberdeen, and with those in the struggling community of Westport. In fact, studies have shown that during this past few years giving by those with the least has gone up, while those who are wealthy have given less. And the economic and tax system we have in our country now continues to lead us more toward the wealthy having more, while the rest have less. Even the prevalent mindset that permeates the political rhetoric is “those who have more “earned it”, while the rest must have been lazy and deserved what lives they have”.
Where do you think our God and these Gospel teachings of Jesus stand on this issue? Don’t be fooled by the wealthy prosperity Gospel preachers, who say to believe in God and everything will be great (especially if you give whatever you have to the church so they can do all kinds of great things with it on your behalf).
Seems like the opposite of a Stewardship sermon doesn’t it! Sounds like I’m saying to not give to St. Mark’s, because they will just use it for themselves and not God’s work. Well, I believe we know through experience here that’s not the case at all. In our St. Mark’s annual pledge and statement of being letter to everyone, I described the various ways our money that comes in from all of you, and from donations from the groups using our building, is used to both keep our building in good shape for ongoing use by us and the wider community, and even more to help those around us in need, by the many outreach opportunities we give toward. And, everyone here--who are all volunteers-- keep this church community going with all your gifts of time and talents in so many ways.
We all have seen with the internet how people use pictures of old TV shows and change them to something relevant today. Here is one, a Rod Serling—Twilight Zone like opening picture: “Imagine a church that seeks to serve Christ in all persons and respects the dignity of every human being. You have just entered the Episcopal zone!” I hope that is what we feel like within our church community, and it carries out to our community by how we act in the name of Jesus.
And here’s another one: I do recognize that each of us has a plan we hope to act out for our lives. It looks something like this—the nice straight line to the “Finish Line”. Instead, it probably occurs more like this—the very rough road, with many valleys and pitfalls along the way. This is ok, though, if we are continuing to keep our focus on this—with everyone and everything we know and do! Keep the focus! Amen!