The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 23A (10/12/2008)

Sacrifice

Lessons: Isaiah 25:1-9 Psalm 23 Philippians 4:1-9 Saint Matthew 22:1-14 Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 32:1-14 Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Prayer of the Day: Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just and pure, and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Stewardship Text: St. Mark 12:38-44

12.38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."


St. Mark 12:38-44, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
This month, at Saint Peter, we are conducting our Fall Stewardship Campaign. The theme is ASPEN, and the focus for this five-week series is:   10/5    Anxiety St. Matthew 6:25-34   10/12   Sacrifice St. Mark 12:41-44 10/19   Peace St. John 14:25-31 10/26   Enthusiasm St. Matthew 13:44-50 11/2    Now 2nd Corinthians 8:1-16 On November 9th, I'll return my attention to the Revised Common Lectionary, with a message based on St. Matthew 25:1-13.

 Who is this widow Jesus observes in the Temple? She is poor - St. Mark tells us that. And we might have guessed it anyway. Widows were vulnerable in those days. They didn't have insurance plans or death benefits or family savings. When the principle wage earner in the family died, those who were left behind were fortunate if they survived. They lived life on a "day-to-day" basis. There were precious few reserves, and little reason to expect that tomorrow would be any easier than today. So resources were carefully protected: a bag of onions here, a half dozen potatoes there, a coin or two - these treasurers were the only morsels of hope that a widow's family might have.

Who is this widow that Jesus observes in the Temple? She is poor - yet sacrificial in her generosity. Living amidst terrific uncertainty, she takes the only two coins she has (the only hope for tomorrow's sustenance?) and drops them in the treasury - the collection box to support the ministry of the Temple. There is no common sense explanation for this. A prudent manager of financial resources would never support her actions. Why, a compassionate leader in the church today would be hard pressed to encourage that kind of giving. ("Think of your future. Those two coins might be the only hope you have of tomorrow's dinner. Save them. See them as a gift from God. A gift for you...") Yet her gift is an expression of her faith - and of her trust. She gives everything she has, trusting that her God will provide. Trusting that tomorrow's dinner will, in fact, come. Trusting that she will survive in the months ahead, as she had in the previous months, by God's grace. If ever there was an image of sacrificial giving, this woman is it.

Who is this widow that Jesus observes in the Temple? She is poor - and in her poverty she has learned how to trust that God will care for her. Perhaps that's why Jesus draws such a sharp contrast between her and the others (wealthy others!) who contributed that day. Our Lord comments: "She, out of her poverty, has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." Her poverty, and her inability to do much of anything about it, forced her (or gave her the opportunity) to learn to trust in God: something that those who "contributed out of their abundance" that day had yet to learn. In that she becomes a model for us all, and a challenge for us to learn what it means to trust in God.

You have no doubt heard that Jesus once said it is harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy person to get into the kingdom of God. Might that be true because (we) wealthy people are rarely forced to learn how to trust in God? This poor widow gave her very best - a sacrificial gift - and trusted that God would provide for tomorrow. Does our support of Christian ministry reflect that same trusting, sacrificial attitude? Or does our wealth prevent us from even considering the possibility?

Who is this widow that Jesus observes in the Temple? She is poor - and amidst her poverty she witnesses to the wealth of faith and trust that she possesses. May our faith and trust run as deeply as hers. May our generosity be as sacrificial as hers. And may our witness be as potent as hers continues to be today, some two thousand years later.

Amen.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What do the scribes (and their lust for public honor) have in common with those making large contributions in the Temple?
  2. How does Jesus contrast their actions with that of the poor widow?
  3. How do wealth and poverty affect one's ability to trust God?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. Am I more like the scribes, the wealthy contributors, or the poor widow?
  2. Are my generosity and my support of Christian ministry sacrificial in nature, or more cautious and measured responses?
  3. How can I plan to grow in my ability to trust God, and to contribute sacrificially to the ministry of the Gospel?