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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Posture and Widows - November 08, 2015

One of the striking things about this story is Jesus' posture and positioning.

“As he taught,” it all begins. That means he was sitting. That is the traditional posture of the teacher in that culture … sitting with people all around you. There would be conversation too...people asking Jesus questions about what he was saying – trying to apply his teachings to their own lives as people of God.

With Jesus, the students that gathered around to hear him and talk with him, had grown considerably since that day – not that long ago – on the Sea of Galilee when he had said to Simon and Andrew “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” (1:17) By now, there were often so many students at his feet that they would have been clamoring to get closer so they could hear Jesus better, see his face as he taught, and ask questions as he opened the scriptures to them.

Jesus often taught on hillsides as he traveled around in his ministry. Perhaps that was in part because the crowds were getting larger. On a hillside, his voice would rise up. So many more could hear him and see him  – a good hill was a natural amphitheater.

It was two weeks ago when we were in the Gospel of Mark last and you may remember we had the story of blind Bartimaeus. I mentioned that Jesus and the disciples and the crowd that followed them were almost to Jerusalem when they came upon the beggar at Jericho. Well last week, while we took a detour over to John for All Saints Day, Jesus and the crowd arrived in Jerusalem. That is where we find them today. Now Jerusalem is on a hill, but there isn't really a hillside to use for teaching among the many stone buildings that line the windy and narrow streets, but there are wide sets of stone stairs … stairs that go up the treasury, for instance.

So this is where Jesus is seated and teaching when he says, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The text reminds us that Jesus is sitting again, but this time adds a little detail – he is sitting opposite – or in opposition to – the treasury. The treasury is an important and very busy part of the temple complex.

With his very posture and positioning, Jesus is challenging the people to take a closer look at what the holy place of God's chosen people has become. And then as if on cue, as he sits opposite the treasury, this widow comes along and gives her last two coins to the temple. She is contributing to the institution set aside to help God's people abide by the commandments of the Lord. And, she's also making that contribution to the very place and people Jesus had just declared are devouring her house – all that she has.

I cannot help but think of my own grandmother when I read this story. She liked to talk to people, a lot. In fact, she got fired from a telemarketing job selling magazine subscriptions or something. It wasn't because she wasn't a good sales person though. It was because she was very good at getting people to take her unsolicited calls but then she'd have long conversations with them about anything you can imagine, except buying what she was supposed to be selling. The people she called loved her, but the company … not so much. So they fired her. I've always been kind of quietly proud of this story of my grandma because I suspect she probably gave those people more of what they actually needed in those monitored for quality phone calls … it wasn't a magazine subscription or vacuum demonstration. Rather she gave them an ear and likely a much needed word of encouragement or comfort.

But this tendency of my grandmother's to strike up a conversation with anyone also hurt her. Years later, when she was older and the early signs of dementia had started show up, she ended up losing a whole lot of money in a scam. Whoever made that unsolicited call to her that day recognized an easy mark in an old woman who loved to talk and do what made her feel like she was helpful and valued in this world. She didn't give all that money away because she was foolish or ignorant, she was just trying to be the kind and caring.

 Our story from Mark doesn't give us the sense that the widow acts out of foolishness or ignorance either.  So why would she give her last two coins to the temple? As a poor widow, the law did not require that of her. Wan't really know the “why” for sure. Maybe she still felt obliged to do this for some reason. Perhaps it was out of fear. As a widow she was very vulnerable. Maybe making the contribution seemed like her best shot at some kind of support, like being allowed to beg at the temple gates or finding the good-hearted people who are everywhere, even in corrupt or broken institutions, to help her out a little. Maybe she thought it would be displeasing to God if she didn't contribute. Maybe she just thought it didn't matter at that point. She had nothing and whether she kept those two coins or not, it didn't change that fact of life for her.

Regardless of the reason, the reality of this story should strike us as askew. But that is the way it goes with us people of God sometimes. We get so wrapped up in the workings of the institution of church that we don't always notice right away those times when human structures and law and hierarchy begin overshadow the whole reason we are church in the first place – to support each other as we strive to love God above all else and love neighbor as we love ourselves.

But then Jesus comes a long and shakes things up. In our story today, his teaching forces the question: why are so many of these scribes paying more attention to fine robes and food and fame rather than tending the widows and others who are struggling to survive? Isn't tending to  the weakest among us what the scriptures call us to? It certainly is according to what the Psalmist tells us today, “Happy are those whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.”

God does that work through all of us.

This text can really convict us and challenge us to see where practices we are part of have gone askew. How are the institutions we support and put a lot of our faith in standing up to Jesus' scrutiny in this story? Over time and even from origins of good faith and good intentions, have practices and polices crept in that end up exploiting the most vulnerable of our own day? Do they – even without meaning to, hurt our children or elders? Do they further marginalize the poor or uneducated? Do they make it even harder for those of us who fight the demons of depression or self-destructive behavior every day?

This text certainly calls us to check ourselves in that regard.

This is a difficult text also because its hard to find the Good News – there's a lot law, a lot of focus on what we should do for the sake of economic justice. But I think there is also good news here and it goes back to that posture and positioning Jesus has taken in this story. As he sits and teaches and observes the comings and goings at that treasury, he notices the widow and what she has given. Few others, if any, noticed her. But Jesus did – God did. And God cared about what was happening and responded.

The good news for us then, is that along with being invited to join with God in caring for the most vulnerable in creation, we can also be assured that God sees us and cares and responds when we are in our most vulnerable places – whatever they may be, whatever makes our struggles invisible to a world caught up in appearances, power and long and empty speeches, prayers and promises.

God saw us in our most vulnerable state of being held back by the sinner part of our saint and sinner natures. God saw us and cared and sent Jesus to die for us so we would not have to suffer from that vulnerability eternally, so that we could come together and be forgiven of our sins, commune together and commit ourselves over and over again to being people of God to the ones who are not noticed out there …

… so that assured like the Psalmist, we too could offer up that prayer today: “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!”

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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