Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Mark 12: 38-44)
I want to be honest – this passage today makes me uncomfortable. But not for the reason you may think. I’m going to get into that reason in a minute, but first, perhaps we should get our bearings here.
You’ll recall that we’ve been reading Mark for a few weeks now. Two weeks ago Peter made his bold declaration: You, Jesus, are the Messiah, you are the son of God. We remember in Mark how everything that happens after that moment is seen in light of that moment, viewed through that particular lens.
And so through that lens we see Jesus going out into the community where we find him teaching and preaching. Rebecca’s sermon last week focused on Jesus’ commandment to love; and she invited us to consider what it would mean to have this commandment so deeply woven into the fabric of our church that we could not help but love those whom God loves. I hope you’ve spent time this week thinking about that, as I have.
Today’s passage, the one immediately following last week’s, has Jesus doing two things. First, he issues a warning: beware the scribes. Beware the scribes, Jesus says, because they are more about show than substance, more about prestige than purpose, more about self than service. Beware the scribes. The next thing we find Jesus doing is watching. He’s watching the crowd at the temple – which, I gotta say, feels a little intimidating, does it not? Jesus just sitting there, watching? Specifically he’s watching people put their money in the treasury; and he notices a widow who gives pretty much all she has, as opposed to others who give a mere percentage of theirs. And Jesus lifts this widow on high, saying, “All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford.” Jesus gives this woman some of the highest praise of anyone in the gospels.
And so I say again: this passage troubles me. It unnerves me. It makes me uncomfortable.
And not because it talks about money. That’s not what makes me uncomfortable. Although that subject matter has become a bit of a taboo topic in the church. It’s true, we struggle talking about money. We allow ourselves a little bit of a window to bring it up – the four weeks of Stewardship season, like we’re in now. But other than that we tend to shy away from it, avoid it, lest such conversation reduces the gospel to something less than it is.
I think it’s interesting that we’ve crafted this narrative around money, when the Bible seems to suggest something quite different. Take our passage today and the fact that in the ancient world temples – like this one in Jerusalem – often functioned as a local bank or treasury. But even more than that – want to guess how many times money is mentioned in the Bible? According to one study, money and possessions are referred to over 2000 times; the second-most referenced topic in the Bible. Another source tells us that money is the focus of 15% of Jesus’ teachings (like here) and almost 30% of his parables. If money is okay for Jesus to talk about, surely it’s okay for us to as well.
So again, it’s not money-talk that troubles me in this passage. What I find unnerving is the way certain people are seen and depicted because of it.
Take the scribes, for instance, that Jesus goes to great lengths to warn the people about. While money is not referenced specifically, the power and prestige and privilege that comes with it is. And while I’m sure Jesus is making a legitimate point, as he is good at doing, there is a little part of me that finds myself uneasy with the broad stroke Jesus paints here. Are we to believe that all scribes were as Jesus depicted them? Are we to think that every single scribe had bought in fully to the systemic structures of power and privilege and prestige? I can’t help but have echoing in my head the wisdom of Ted Lasso when he says, “be curious, not judgmental.” It just makes me uneasy.
As does the way Jesus exalts the widow in the temple for giving her all. Literally giving everything. A widow who, in the ancient world, was hopelessly stuck in a cycle of perpetual poverty. Was it really wise for this widow to give, as one translation puts it, “the whole of her life” – is that what was best for her? And was it wise for Jesus to lift her up to such extent, setting her against those who had given a mere pittance? I have to ask, is there ever a point where you can give too much of yourself?
If this sounds like a sermon you weren’t expecting to hear today, let me assure you that it is also a sermon I was not expecting to preach. Especially in the heart of Stewardship season! But see, that’s the thing – sometimes it’s in those unexpected places scripture takes us where we find what God most wants us to see. I once had a valued pastor colleague say to me, “when God’s word makes you uncomfortable, lean into it.”
And so the more I lean into the discomfort of our passage today, the more I realize that Jesus is trying to get us to see something else. Not the dollars and cents, not the power and prestige, but a theological understanding around those things. I’m talking about our understanding of scarcity and abundance, and how each of those understandings informs not only what we give but just as importantly how we give it.
Here’s what I mean. Imagine this – you’re paying the monthly bills. You open your power bill and your eyes bulge out as you notice that the bill is some $50 more than usual. It makes sense – it was a hot August last month and the AC was on overdrive. Still, you examine the wattage usage, reading all the details, just to make sure the calculations are correct. Ugh. You’ll pay it, of course, but you still wince and feel your stomach knot up as you write the $50-more-than usual check or hit send on the $50-more-than usual online payment.
Now imagine this: you’re taking your afternoon stroll in the park when you notice someone sitting on a bench with ragged clothes holding a cardboard sign. You introduce yourself and ask if you can help. They have many things you can help with, but the most pressing are food in their stomach and a bus ticket to get to the homeless shelter on the other side of town. You can do both of those things for $50. I mean, it’s a no-brainer; and you feel so good inside as you take him for a bite to eat and purchase a bus ticket.
That’s getting at the difference between giving out of scarcity and giving out of abundance – and it has nothing to do with the dollar amount or the size of our gift. It has everything to do with the perception of our own self in relation to that gift, and how passionate we feel about what it is we are giving to. If giving to something is seen merely as obligation or duty, if we’re not really invested in it, we tend to give out of our scarcity. But if we feel good about something, if we believe in something, we’re giving out of our abundance. It’s not ultimately about how much is in here (hold up wallet). It’s about how much is in here (point to heart).
I think about the table we have set before us on this World Communion Sunday. I think about the man who first set this table all those years ago; a man who, like that widow, was about to give “the whole of his life.” He was anxious about it. He would’ve preferred a way around it. But he gave it anyway, and he gave it out of his abundance. And all these years later that abundance is still there on that table – overflowing with grace, teeming with mercy, abounding in love. That abundance is there for us and it empowers us to give abundantly ourselves.
If Jesus were here today – watching us – I like to imagine him asking: where have we encountered God’s abundance in our lives, and what are we willing to commit to, to share that abundance in this Stewardship season and in our daily walk? May Jesus, the one who gave out of his abundance, empower and enable us to do the same.
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
 https://www.forbes.com/sites/sherylnancenash/2012/05/24/is-the-bible-the-ultimate-financial-guide/?sh=7572a4a96493. https://wealthwithpurpose.com/god-money/why-does-the-bible-mention-money-so-often/