beware, part 2

Bible a biblical reflection (that didn’t occur to me until this morning), based on Mark 12.38-44, for yesterday, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 8, 2015

Jesus, ever observant and calling his disciples to be vigilant, too, watched those making monetary offerings at the Temple treasury. “Many rich people put in large sums.” That their giving was noticeable suggests that the wealthy made a public point of having their largesse noticed (thus not heeding another warning of Jesus: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you…so [to] be praised by others”[1]). Then came a widow, contributing a penny. In light of the nature of her gift, giving “everythingall” (the words ring with a tolling bell of truest, total surrender of possessions to the point of her personal greater impoverishment), Jesus praised her, pronouncing her offering grandest of all.

Lesson of the Widow's Mite, João Zeferino da Costa, 1876

Jesus’ commendation of the über-generous widow is coupled, I think, with his condemnation of the religious institution, represented by the Temple treasury. As Jesus’ scrutiny and summary of people’s giving habits immediately follows his scathing indictment of those scribes who “devour widows’ houses” and precedes his prophesy of the Temple’s destruction,[2] I perceive within his word of acclaim for the widow a denunciating “beware” against a system that could and would summon such sacrificial giving from one least able to afford it.

All institutions – commercial, political, social, or ecclesial – in their innately self-preservative leanings, can become inured to human need. In 2011, Mitt Romney, then a Republican Party presidential candidate, at a campaign appearance, famously (or, depending on one’s point of view, infamously) said, “Corporations are people.” I think he meant that corporations are populated by people. True. However, corporations, institutions, and organizations, in their makeup and methods, can operate quite apart from the care of those who are meant to be served. And Jesus, a Messiah of love and justice, cries, “Beware!”, always calling all of us, in whatever institutions we inhabit and from which we benefit, to the confession of repentance and the transformation of renewal.

Illustration: Lesson of the Widow’s Mite, João Zeferino da Costa, 1876

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 6.1-2

[2] Mark 13.1-2

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2 thoughts on “beware, part 2

  1. Love this Paul!!! Giving what you can without announcements!!! As I said in my earlier response to your previous blog posts, institutions can drive me crazy!!

    What really bothers me are high expectations of people who may not be able to give much or at all, and then punishing them for it. I will never forget the story a few months back where a 90+ year old woman got a letter from her pastor that she was no longer a member of her church because financially she could no longer tithe. The backlash was incredible on social media and weeks later I believe they rescinded the letter, but too little too late in my mind!!! She had been a faithful giver for many years. Jesus would be appalled at that church’s actions, and everyone needs to “beware” of those type of churches. Not to mention the fact that the pastor had many expensive cars and lived in a mansion.

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  2. Your example, Loretta, of the pitiless pastor who demanded that his long-faithful member continue to give financially beyond her ability emphasizes the point I’m making. Truth to tell, it’s not only the pastor, but the “system” of that community – the fellow lay leaders, stewardship expectations, etc. – that allowed such an unconscionable request/demand to be made.

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