Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, Year B
November 11, 2018
Lessons: 1 Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that “mite” and “might” are words in this week’s biblical witness that call us to greater awareness and practice of both stewardship and justice.
Key Scripture: Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Psalm 146:3-4
This week’s Revised Common Lectionary lessons are “bookended” by stories about widows—among the most oppressed and impoverished segment of society in the times in which these stories are cast. Granted, there’s still a whole lot of oppression going on today for folks on the margins, and plenty of widows lack enough resources to live even a modest life. Is, perhaps, this disturbing reality more the point of these lessons and a holy nudge at what we need to continue to teach and learn? We humans don’t seem to have learned our lessons well enough because history continues to repeat itself, and attitudes and practices resist death and change.
Tempting as it may be to teach the gospel lesson primarily as an example of faithful stewardship by this pitiful little old woman (at least that’s how she’s so often depicted in our art and descriptions) and a shaming of those who certainly could and should give more, I believe we need to dig a little deeper to access the richness and complexity of Jesus’ teaching.
First, what do we know about the widow in in Mark’s gospel? Do we envision her putting her two small coins into the collection with an air of shame and defeat? From whence does that image arise? Is it the product of our own prejudices of people living in poverty, our lack of relationship with our sisters who lack the same level of resources we might enjoy, or the result of cultural biases and stereotypes?
The story takes a different shape if we cast the widow as a beloved child of God who is exercising her own agency, no matter how limited that may be. Can we cast her coming to the treasury in joy, experiencing a sense of might in placing her gift of “mites” into the same box where others give? Do we sense her reliance on God rather than her own power and cultural place of prominence? Could there even be a hint of defiance in taking her rightful place in God’s house in the midst of the powerful and well-resourced?
We do not know the widow’s backstory. We have only what Jesus and the author of Mark’s gospel give to us. We know that just a few verses earlier Jesus seems to be pointing out the hypocrisy of some of the religious elite, those 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” (Mark 12:28-30).
Notice that motivation is a key element in Jesus’ critique. He does not condemn the wealthy who give out of their abundance, nor does he condemn all of the religious leaders. Jesus is focused on attitude and practice, on which players in this drama are moved by a right relationship with God. Yep, Jesus never passes up a good teaching moment, and neither should we as preachers and teachers.
This Sunday imagine just what kind of “might” a mite might have, especially when one’s mites are given and shared in right relationship and in response to God’s abundant love and grace. When we put our trust in Jesus, we may find ourselves free to be that widow with her head held high, her heart aligned with God’s way, and her hand open to share. We might also be convicted to work for a more just world where all are fed and where everyone sees in our discipleship a glimpse of Jesus and a foretaste of the feast to come. Blessings on your faithful and mighty teaching and preaching.
Psalm 146 illuminates both widows’ stories. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,” sings the psalmist. Yet how often do we do just that? How often do we listen and judge and believe in earthly powers that operate in opposition to the vision of the Reign of God portrayed in scripture? Consider alternative ways to present this psalm today. What about a multipart dramatic reading? How might you use visual media to illustrate the psalm? Could you invite worshipers into an interactive experience of this psalm?
If you are a storyteller, why not prayerfully craft a sermon recasting of the gospel told from the widow’s perspective? You might also consider a dialogue between the two widows from different ages and locations. How would they share their story with one another?
Our culture tells us to take care of ourselves first because no one else will. Is this truth or a lie? What evidence is there to back up your perspective? What has changed since the time of the two widows in today’s lessons? What has not changed? How is the church called to tell and live a different story? Questions like these can help youth explore their faith, ponder important questions, and come up with creative responses to societal problems. How, for example, might we start by caring for the marginalized within our own community of faith? Could doing so help train us to care for others beyond our faith family?
This week’s focus verse is “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 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.’” Mark 12:42-43
The gifts that children bring to our faith communities are sometimes marginalized or considered unimportant. This principle applies to older children and teens, too. Today is a great opportunity to remind the children that we all have gifts and talents to share in thanksgiving to God. To illustrate this point pack small portions of snack mix ingredients (pretzel fish, M&Ms, raisins, dried fruit, etc.). Make sure you have enough for every child to have a portion. Give each child one and tell them that this is a gift freely given to them—just as God gives each one of us gifts and talents. Raisins may not seem like much of a gift to one child, or M&Ms might have much better appeal. On its own merit, each ingredient is less than it can be when combined to make a delicious combined treat. Invite the children to place their individual “gift” into one large bowl. Have the help stir the mix together and repackage the end product into their own containers. Together they have made something much better. Life is like that, too. We are stronger together, and we can do more when we combine our gifts and talents. Remind children that they are important to the community and that their gifts matter. Finish with simple prayer asking God to empower each child to use his or her gifts and talents in ways that make God smile. Send them home with snack mix and an extra portion to share.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
What makes the widow’s mite so mighty? It isn’t the size of her gift; it’s something much greater than that. Think about it: How can our own gifts and talents that so often seem paltry and unimportant be mighty in worth in God’s economy and in our community? Our gospel lesson invites us to consider carefully these and other questions that Jesus raises in this important teaching moment.
Stewardship at Home
This week consider those whose gifts are often overlooked and marginalized. How can you affirm and truly learn from one of those people this week? All of us have unique God-given gifts and talents. Find someone and affirm that person’s gifts. Share their story if you can. Be inspired by their example and witness.
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/11/the-abundant-life/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/11/when-less-is-more/
Photos: Siembra Conmigo, Pedro Ribeiro Simões, and Ben Grey, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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