A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Don't be like the Widow!
November 9, 2003
Ordinary Sunday 32 Mark 12:38-44
Let me begin with a well worn joke...
A well-worn five dollar bill and a similarly distressed twenty dollar bill arrived at a Federal Reserve Bank to be retired. As they moved along the conveyor belt to be burned, they struck up a conversation.
The twenty dollar bill reminisced about its travels all over the world. "I've had a pretty good life," the twenty proclaimed. "Why I've been to Las Vegas and Rome, the finest restaurants in New York, performances on Broadway, and even a cruise to the Caribbean."
"Wow!" said the five dollar bill. "You've really had an exciting life!"
"So tell me," says the twenty, "Where have you been throughout your lifetime?"
The five dollar bill replies, "Oh, I've been to the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Anglican Church...."
The twenty dollar bill interrupts, "What's a church?"
Of course not true of St Matthew's! There’s also that long standing joke about the bumbling minister who chose as the offertory hymn for stewardship Sunday, 'Jesus paid it all'. His treasurer resigned immediately following the service.
At least once every three years you will have heard a sermon on the famous story of the Widow's Mite; her small offering at the temple. For me as a lifelong Anglican, that's coming up for 12 sermons. For some of you that number could be doubled. I think I could safely say that 10 times I have been competent to listen to the sermon. I could safely say that 10 times I have been told to be just like the widow; that is, give everything, do it with a generous heart, do not to be pretentious like the scribes. Its always been a nice passage with a good moral; good one for the kids in Sunday School. Easy to preach on and most listeners leave resting comfortably that they are alright.
Most of the sermons offer sentimental lessons about Jesus, as he sat by the road and watched the tens of thousands of visitors who would have travelled past the temples golden trumpets which doubled as money scoops during Passover. He watched and singled out one lonely woman amongst the throng. He gave her his special attention and she became the pin up girl for generosity. So the moral is to be generous, especially to the Church. Give - even give everything - as the widow did. Sounds fair enough. So, "Be like the Widow," right?
But stop and think about it. The point could be the exact reverse. Why do you think the scribes are wearing their long extravagant robes and parading through the streets? How do you think they got to afford the best seats in the synagogues and invites to the prestigious parties? Wasn't it from the extortion of the offertories of people like the widow? They had done nothing to support widows, in fact they had abandoned them. Instead, they lived it up themselves.
Breaking the pattern of decades of sermons, I am here to tell you this morning DON'T BE LIKE THE WIDOW! Don't give up all your money to anyone! Especially don't give any money to people who trap you in a system of oppression. This passage is a savage critique of the temple system, which masqueraded as a spiritual home, yet fronted a system of cashing in on poor people's dependence. The temple was a religious system of domination and control. It trapped people in a system where they were classed as insider or outsider, included or excluded. Widows in this scheme were less than human being women, and even worse, women without men. The temple was a place of exclusion and domination.
Jesus sat and watched all of this oppression taking place and the poor widow enrolling right on into it. We can only wonder what he thought! I can only imagine he thought, "Don't be like the widow. Don't support oppression."
What about the Church today? You be the judge. Our global Church leaders are currently voting for unity over truth, in their fear of a split. They can’t seem to agree over whether gay and lesbian people should lead the Church. Surely for followers of Jesus that's a no-brainer. Aren't we on about inclusion and diversity?
While people abandon the Church in droves, they discuss issues which have long been put to pasture by the wider society. You be the judge. Support Christian ministry which is life-affirming, support work which honours the dignity of the least in society, don't prop up a system of domination. Support ministry which is inclusive. Stand against religion which stigmatises people because of their sexuality or social standing.
Don't be like the widow. Be discerning. Be bold. Be generous to worthy causes. With Advent on our doorstep, you could say that Jesus is sitting by the temples and churches of our world watching. He is not looking for piety as opposed to pretension. He’s looking for radical attention to social and personal needs over religion which is pure and righteous.
Be real! Pity the widow. Fight for the widow. Stand against the systems which made her a poor and second class citizen; don't perpetuate them. Pity the widow. Don't be like the widow!