No matter how you feel about its results, I think you will join me in expressing relief that the recent election is over and with it the annoying political ads. Not only are such ads endlessly repetitious and omnipresent, but they are so misleading. I’d be willing to bet that there was not a single ad that told the whole truth about anybody. Everything is slanted to make somebody look good and somebody else look bad.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is going on in this morning’s Gospel reading. Mark has written a story that makes the scribes look bad. That has happened because the community to whom Mark is writing is in conflict with the leadership of the synagogues. So Mark is exaggerating, in order to support his own community. We can understand that – we must understand that, because as Christians, we have a responsibility to speak out against the anti-semitism that has grown out of much of the NT’s treatment of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. In light of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, we need to be ever vigilant that Christianity not be seen as supporting ideas that lead people to do such awful things to God’s chosen people.
So , what does that leave us with this morning? Two rather amazing women. The two widows we meet in our readings today have some things in common. They are both bereft of the support of a husband, which in that day left them extremely vulnerable. Unable to work, they were helpless if they did not have the support of a father or brother or son. In their vulnerability, they were alike.
But in other ways they are different. The widow of Zarephath is a Gentile, so she was not subject to the covenantal laws that required care of the community’s widows and orphans. She has a son, but it appears he is quite young. She is doing her best with what life has given her – preparing to use the last of her resources to feed her son and herself their last meal. But there is something even more unique about this widow – God has chosen her to take care of God’s prophet, Elijah. She doesn’t seem to know this, but she nonetheless follows the ancient rules of hospitality and gives Elijah what he asks for – food and drink. The reward for her generosity is life – she and her son are sustained by resources that are not depleted and in the next part of this chapter, Elijah restores her son to life after he dies.
We don’t know much about the widow Jesus was watching, in this final scene in his public ministry. Sitting in the temple, Jesus calls out the behavior of the scribes who like to flaunt their position and enjoy the perks of their roles in the leadership of their people. Jesus watches an obviously poor widow as she places the offering a couple of small coins, worth probably the equivalent of two pennies. Jesus holds her up as a model of stewardship, giving all that she had to live on. Unlike the rich who don’t miss what they give, this woman’s gift comes at considerable cost.
This text, which we call the Widow’s Mite, is often used at this time of the year to preach about stewardship. We are encouraged to see this woman’s gift as a model for our own. But let’s be honest – are any of us really going to give everything we have to the church? Should we? We all do probably need to rethink our priorities in light of this morning’s gospel. Are we like the scribes, running around in expensive clothes enjoying the best seats in the house? If so, maybe we do need to rethink that. But giving all that we have so that we become depended on the state to care for us doesn’t seem like good stewardship to me.
I think a more profitable use of this text this morning is to think of it in terms of community. Unlike the widow of Zarephath who seemed pretty alone, the widow of Mark’s gospel text is part of a community. Maybe the community was a bit flawed – maybe the leadership was indeed self-centeredly abandoning those in need – but for this widow the community was more than its leadership. It was important to her. It mattered to her that she be able to participate in supporting a community that in some way supported her.
That is the stewardship message for us today. We are part of a community – a very special community in my mind. It isn’t perfect – during the interim, things may happen that we do not like – but St. George’s is bigger than decisions about how we worship or how we use the building or what ministries we support in town. We are God’s people gathered in this place to pray and praise and join our talents in service to God’s world.
We may find that like the widow of Zarephath, reaching out in hospitality to strangers will lead to incredible blessings. Or we may be like the widow in Mark’s story whose future remains unknown. But no matter the result, generosity is its own gift. Generosity allows us to live in the midst of God’s abundance, acknowledging God’s grace at work in our lives. Sharing that grace is an incredible blessing.
During the interim we invite everyone to offer their two-cents worth – whether that be financial support, or physical support doing some of the many tasks of caring for our building and the ministries that happen in and from it. Share your ideas about what you’d like to see St. George’s doing. Come study scripture with us. Share in worship leadership by singing in the choir, or serving as a lay worship leader. Join the Eucharistic visitors in taking communion to those who can not be here on Sunday. Join us in making Advent wreaths and sharing fellowship in other inter-generational events we have forthcoming. Serve at Table of Plenty, or the Food Pantry, or any of our many mission opportunities. There are so many ways to be involved in this amazing community. All are needed.
Do not be afraid, Elijah said to the widow of Zarephath. She followed his instructions and look what happened. Let us not be afraid. And let us be prepared for blessing beyond imagining.