Widow's Mite - Ancient Roman Bronze Coins

A Widow’s Shame and Ours

 

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 (RCL); I Kings 17:10-16 (LM)
Psalm 127 or 42 (RCL); Psalm 146:7-10 (LM)
Hebrews 9:24-38
Mark 12:38-44

For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.

Mark 12:44

By the time we get to the familiar text in this week’s Gospel reading—sometimes referred to as the story of the widow’s mite—Jesus has made his so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem. More street theatre and political satire than victory parade, the festivities end with Jesus casing the temple late of an evening. He returns the next day and turns over a few tables, infuriating the religious authorities and confounding everyone else. He enters the temple a third time on the third day (a detail not extraneous to Mark’s purposes, we might suppose), and offers an accusatory parable. Pharisees and Herodians are dispatched to trap him; they find themselves amazed instead. He bluntly tells some Sadducees: “you are wrong . . . you are quite wrong.” Third up are the scribes, for whom Jesus reserves his most caustic criticism:

Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.
(38-40)

Jesus then takes a seat “facing” (kateanti) the treasury. This detail, too, seems deliberate on Mark’s part: a short while and a few verses later Jesus will “face”—the same word in Greek—the temple mount as he foretells its imminent destruction (13:3).

From his choice seat, Jesus carefully “scrutinizes” (etheōrei) the scene, observing “how the crowd put money in the treasury,” and noting that “many rich people put in large sums” (41).

Just the day before he had directly attacked the temple establishment so we might assume he’s still seething a bit. Not because a sacred place had been profaned by commerce—the temple was an economic institution as well as a religious one. Rather, Jesus is scandalized by the exploitation of the poor in their attempts to participate in Israel’s cultic life.

But his anger at what he sees in the temple treasury has a sharper focus. He has just depicted the scribes—the temple lawyers—as not only religious hypocrites but also as abusers of their fiduciary power: “they devour the houses of widows.” (40) Read more

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Feasting with the Saints

Feast of All Saints

Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wis Sol. 3:1-9
Ps 24
Rev 21:1-6
Jn 11:32-44

I love All Saints Day. It is one of my favorite feast days of the church year. It is a time for joyfully remembering those who preceded us in the faith, both those well-known and those known only to God.

It is one of the traditional days for baptism, too. When this happens it provides a community with a chance to look both backward to remember departed members of the body and forward with those beginning their new lives in Christ. I am also partial to the hymns for this day. This Sunday is one of those occasions when All Saints Day lands on a Sunday.

One way to focus our remembrance of the saints is to reflect on the rest and security those believers now enjoy in God. Even though they have died, “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, no torment will ever touch them” (Wis Sol 3:1). They are now removed from the world in which their steadfast fidelity often led to pain and suffering. This can be a comfort to us who remain behind in this world. Most importantly, their lives should serve to encourage our own greater fidelity. Read more

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Keep Reading

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 OR Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22 OR Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Maybe the most important counsel a commentator on this week’s lectionary texts can offer to whoever hopes to preach them is to keep reading (I’m sure there’s a proverb about this somewhere, but darned if I can come up with one). The lectionary I consulted began with the text from Job, followed by excerpts from the 34th Psalm, and the combination left me, quite honestly, flabbergasted.

I know it’s just a story, and one with parallels in ancient Near Eastern pagan myths at that. I also know that the ending (chapter 42) is not altogether in keeping with the richly nuanced theology of the rest of the text. But taken at face value, I find those last verses of Job just a bit troubling.

I want to say to God, “OK, lemme see if I got this right. After you give Job – who to say the least had seen more than his share of abject suffering – a thorough dressing down about your respective places in the cosmic scheme, he says, ‘O, wow! I had no idea. I shoulda just kept my mouth shut. Sorry, God.’

“And then, after he prays for the friends who had added so much insult to his injury, you give him ‘twice as much as he had before.’ That’s twice the livestock, twice the servants, twice the children, plus a bunch of money and jewelry. And he lives another one hundred and forty years to enjoy it, which ostensibly makes everything pretty much all right!

“Are you serious? What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Do you really expect me to preach it?” Read more

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Helpless Before the Throne

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Job 38: 1-7 (34-41)
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

“We will have so much winning. We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning. Believe me, I agree, you’ll never get bored with winning. We never get bored. We are going to turn this country around. We are going to start winning big on trade. Militarily, we’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.” -Donald Trump, September 2015

“I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee. Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.” – Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

In last Sunday’s epistle lesson from Hebrews we were reminded that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joint from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” If the gospel lessons of the past few weeks have been any indication the power of God’s word to cut deeply into our lives, this week’s gospel conversation between Jesus, James, and John leaves no doubt that the Word made Flesh will not rest until everything that separates us from God has been sliced away with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel.

Last week this “Good Teacher” cut into our idolatry of possessions. This week it gets even more personal. Placing ourselves in this story we realize that our sinfulness, like that of James and John, is not just caused by external forces like wealth (or Mammon), but by forces dwelling deep within us, like envy, pride, ego, and the illusion of grandeur. Read more

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Nightmares of the Rich

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 10: 17-31

Stacey Elizabeth Simpson remembers the night she first read Mark’s account of Jesus and the rich man. She was seven, tucked comfortably into bed, quietly reading her Bible when she heard Jesus thunder: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” She slammed the bible shut and ran down the hallway to her sleeping mother’s bedside. “Mom!” she called, “Jesus says that rich people don’t go to heaven!”

“We’re not rich,” said her mother, “Go back to bed.”

“But I knew better,” said the grown-up Stacey. “I knew I had all I needed plus plenty more…the little girl inside me knew that these words of Jesus were clear, and hard, and scary.” Read more

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Where Mercy and Justice Meet

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 2:18-24 OR Job 1:1, 2:1-10
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

The readings this Sunday are thickly planted with pastoral land mines. Even the revised common lectionary, which typically supplies a kinder, gentler Old Testament alternative to the Catholic selection, offers a passage from Job with a theologically problematic encounter between God and Satan and an unkind reference to women. You decide if that’s safer to preach on than God’s fashioning the woman from the man’s rib. Happy is the preacher observing World Communion Sunday this week.

God knows – and we take as a matter of faith – that Scripture is meant to help and unite, not hinder and divide, but these selections have often been sources of discord. They are hard readings some have used as weapons, particularly against women. They are interpreted differently between and within churches and denominations, dividing the Body of Christ into a host of fractious camps and labels: liberal from conservative, progressive from traditionalist, “accommodators” from “fundamentalists.” Dangerous texts, indeed.

What makes them dangerous is that they touch bedrock aspects of our personhood: bodies, gender, sexuality, and intimate relationships. Many current (and former) Christians conclude that the Church has selectively misinterpreted such passages across the centuries, mercilessly enforcing literalist readings of scattered passages while ignoring behaviors the scriptures more forcefully and consistently condemn: ignoring the poor, harming a neighbor, withholding hospitality from strangers. Agree or disagree, the challenging task remains: how do we, as a Christian community, read these texts together? Read more

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How Much is Enough?

The post for this week is from the archives:

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11: 4-35
Mark 9:38-50

Years ago in a cartoon in the Houston Chronicle, in the first frame was a man, obviously an American middle-class male, standing next to his car, saying to it, “Because of you, the air is foul. The globe is warming.” In the next frame, the man is pumping gas into the car saying, “Because of you I’m entangled in the affairs of countries that cause me headaches.” Next frame, while he is slumped in his seat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, “Because of you our central cities are empty and I waste half my life in traffic to the burbs.” Next frame, kids are getting in and out of the car, “Because of you my family is one big frantic snarl of hectic schedules.” Next frame, while holding his paunch with littered paper cups and french-fry containers around him, “And because of you I’m an obese drive-thru addict, a coronary just waiting to happen.” In the last frame, the man is hugging his car, “What would I do without you?” Read more

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Tough Guy

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 31:10-31 OR Wisdom 2:12-22
Psalm 1
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

Over the recent Labor Day weekend, one of the movie channels was showing a Rocky marathon, so I took the opportunity to introduce my kids to a movie that, in my mind, once represented the apex of filmmaking—Rocky III. While it’s always fun to revisit a cultural experience from my childhood, in this case we found ourselves laughing at all the wrong moments.

Particularly confounding to my kids was the character of Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. For those of you who don’t remember Mr. T, he was a grumpy, mohawked celebrity in the early 1980’s, the star of television shows, cartoons, and numerous commercials. He even had a breakfast cereal named after him.

And as his appearance in Rocky III reminded me, his persona could be boiled down to one basic characteristic: he was a tough guy. In the movie, his dramatic range extends from macho posturing to aggressive verbal abuse, all delivered in a gravelly, staccato cadence. My two kids, who are around the age I was when Mr. T dominated the airwaves, had a hard time understanding why I—and millions of other red-blooded American children—had once thought that he was so cool.

Of course, if such characters were only found in fiction, this world would be a much safer place. As we enter another presidential campaign, and another glut of debates, Super PAC commercials, and stump speeches hit the airwaves, I’m reminded that Mr. T’s hair and wardrobe may have been mercifully left in the 1980’s, but his affectations have never gone out of style. Read more

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Revolutionary Danger

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 1:20-33
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

“Why doesn’t God answer my prayer? Why is my life so hard? When will things get better for me?” This week we are confronted with the difficult possibility that God’s primary reason for existence may not be to meet our every need, to make us happy, or give us what we want. The disciples began to learn that lesson at Caesarea Phillipi.

Caesarea Philippi is a site of incomparable beauty and longstanding political turmoil. Known today as Banias, or Panias, this once Syrian, now Israeli-controlled site in the foothills of Mount Hermon is a major source of the Jordan River. Spring-fed streams tumble through the area, making it one of the most picturesque sites in all the Holy Land. Yet the marks of violent struggle are visible too. The hulls of blown out military vehicles lie frozen as memorials to Israeli soldiers from the Yom Kippur War. Sheep graze in pastures with warnings posted in three languages: “Danger Mines!”

In Jesus’ day, Caesarea Philippi harbored plenty of ethnic, religious and political landmines too. Read more

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Stranded on Olympus

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Mark 7:24-37

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

 

The appropriate response to the depiction of Christ’s suffering and broken flesh is not empathy leading to philanthropic action or political activism on behalf of the less fortunate other.  Rather, it is meant to provoke repentance and conversion.                                                                

                                             Luke Bretherton

There are two kinds of people in the world, the saying goes – those who divide people into two kinds and those who don’t.  The saying is, of course, tongue-in-cheek; a satire of, say, candidates who draw dishonestly simplistic false dichotomies for political gain, or of “experts” who presume a perspective from which they omnisciently categorize the world.  At best these folks are pretentious.  At worst, they are the ones who make “distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4).

The lectionary readings unabashedly speak of two kinds of people – the poor and the rich.  Far from making a false dichotomy, the texts shine light on what is perhaps the primordial divide.  Read more