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Pentecost 24 Proper 27B RCL November 11, 2012

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12: 38-44

Once again, we are following our plan of placing our attention on today’s reading from Mark’s gospel.

Jesus is teaching in the temple. This passage that we read today is his last public teaching in Mark’s gospel. From here on until his death, his teachings will be for the disciples only.

In the temple are all kinds of people from all walks of life. Some of the people are genuinely curious about what Jesus has to say. Others are literally spying on him trying to collect evidence against him.

Jesus begins by telling the people to beware of the scribes, that is, the teachers of the law. His attack is scathing. The scribes like to walk about in flowing robes. These garments are expensive, and, if you wear a long elaborate robe, your clothing makes it clear that you do not do hard work or manual labor, You can’t move quickly. You can’t really be active. So even what they wear makes it clear that the scribes are privileged. They don’t get their hands dirty. They don’t break a sweat.

Their clothing is in itself a sign that they are an honored group.

They liked to be greeted and honored in the marketplace. They sat in the seats of honor in the synagogue and in the banquet hall. The scribes are powerful; they are privileged people, they say long prayers, and yet, Jesus says, they “devour widows’ houses.”  They are hypocrites. They don’t practice what they teach. They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.

What does it mean that they devour the houses of widows? Scholars tell us that, in Jesus’ time, and in that culture, widows were at the bottom of the social scale. Women had no social standing aside from their husbands. When their husbands died, they lost their source of protection and their source of financial support. Often a widow would, with a trusting heart, ask a scribe to help her handle her finances. What Jesus is saying is that often the scribe would take the widow’s money for himself. So, here we have a member of the congregation trusting a leader, a teacher of the law, with her financial resources, and the teacher misusing the power given to him and cheating the woman out of everything she has. This is a serious misuse of power and privilege.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Here Jesus speaks harshly of the scribes. He notes their assumed superiority, their grasping for honours and prominence, and he dismisses their religious acts as posturing and hypocrisy. He does not attack the spirituality of Judaism, but he is highly critical of what the organized form og it had become. To Jesus it seemed as if the whole religious system that centered in the Temple had become cynical, self-serving, even rapacious. There is always a danger that a great religion will descend to this state. Our Lord’s words and actions, not to speak of his death and resurrection, will themselves judge the church to the end of time, calling it to be constantly aware of the temptation to be self-serving and self-congratulatory.”

Now the scene shifts. Jesus moves to the part of the Temple where the collection boxes were located. William Barclay tells us that there were thirteen collecting boxes, one for corn, one for wine, one for oil, and so on, collections for items to be used in the sacrifices at the Temple. The collection boxes were in the shape of inverted trumpets, with the narrow end at the top. Once you had put a coin  into the collection, you could not get it out, and no one could steal the collection.

A widow comes along. She is totally vulnerable in the society. She has nothing. She throws in two coins, known as lepta. One coin was known as a lepton, meaning literally, a thin one. This is the thinnest, the smallest coin.

Other people have thrown in much more. But they have a great deal of money left. This woman has thrown in very little, but she has very little money.

The woman is vulnerable, She has no power in that society. When she throws those two lepta into the collection box, I think she feels that she is giving them to God.  She is taking a courageous action, a leap of faith. It is clean and clear and sincere.

William Barclay writes, “We may feel that we have not much in the way of material gifts or personal gifts to give to Christ, but, if we put all that we have and all that we are at his disposal. He can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings.”

Though we are focusing on the gospel, let’s look at our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures for a moment. There was a famine in Judah and Naomi went to Moab with her husband and two sons. Her sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi’s husband and sons died. All three women became widows. Hearing that the famine in Judah had ended, Naomi decided to go back home. Out of love and faithfulness, Ruth went with her, Once she was back at home, Naomi’s courage increased and she made a decision to secure protection for Ruth by having her marry Boaz, her relative, an honored and honorable man. Their son, Obed, was the grandfather of David, and from that family came Jesus.

The courage and faith of good, ordinary people like us can bear great fruit. Trusting in God is everything. That’s what these stories are about.  Ordinary people who don’t have a lot, but who have faith and trust and hope in God and who seek and do God’s will every day of their lives—people like this widow—are heroes of the faith.

Day by day, dear Lord, three things of thee we pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Amen

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