Friday, November 27, 2009

Generous Living - But maybe not ...

It happens from time to time.  I get started with the study of a passage for the upcoming sermon and then I realize, "What I thought this passage was all about isn't what this passage is all about."  That's happened this week.  The passage is from Mark 12 where Jesus spies a widow dropping her two small coins into the temple treasury.  An act of sacrifice and generosity, no doubt.  It was a significant offering, not due to the amount, but due to the extreme sacrifice.  That's the direction I've always taken with this story (retold almost identically in Luke 21).  Here's what one commentary says about it:
The Christian lesson of the widow's mites, as relayed in Luke (21:1-4) and Mark (12:41-44), is an enduring testament to the value of faith. A destitute widow has only a few mites to her name, and those she gave selflessly as her donation to the Temple. (Mites were ancient pennies, fairly worthless at the time). Jesus comments that her modest gift was worth more than the ostentatious contributions of the wealthy, for her mites represented all that she had. This virtuous woman had demonstrated true faith in God -- she could not know from where her next meal would come, but she believed that He would provide for her.
 But there's a glaring absence of comment in the actual story.  At no point does Jesus commend the widow.  Jesus actually says she "put in all she had to live on."  Was that a good thing?  The context of the passage, in respect to the events before and after it, is important too - and very revealing.  Another thing: What exactly was the "temple treasury" - where was the widow's money going?  These are things I started to wrestle with this week.  Have we been reading this story incorrectly all along?  And if this other direction for the sermon is right, what does it say to us today?  That's always the big question.  The answer might be disturbing for me as a "church leader" (I hate it when that happens).

The sermon title is printed, ready to go in the bulletin.  But if I could still reprint it, I'd title it differently.  Without spilling all the sermon beans already, I'd love to hear what you think the title should be.  Share your ideas!  And I hope your Thanksgiving was good.
- Curtis


  1. The passage is indeed a puzzle. Is it teaching that we should give everything to the "temple treasury"? Another passage could be taken as teaching that we should give everything to the poor. And yet other passages seem to commend supporting one's family and taking care of our own needs so that others don't have to.

    In the preceding context Jesus is criticizing religious leaders for their ostentatiousness. Perhaps the point he's making in the widow story is: Give Anonymously. (That would have interesting implications for our pledge drives.)


  2. You bet, Harry. One thing that bugs me about the 'pledge cards' is that it blows the concept of 'not letting your left hand know what your right is doing'. The other part of it that makes me unconfortable is the experience of my Mormon frinds who get called to account if their tithes don't match the cards (or if leadership feels that what they've pledged isn't a true tithe, in their opinion). i especially find offensive the part on the CHBC card where one states what % of income the pledge represents. We tithe (and then some), but announcing it makes us uncomfortable, and I can't help but feel it is an overreach on the part of church administration. While I recognize that the church needs some idea of anticipated income to plan for budget expenses,
    i feel the card should be less blatant in the information members are expected to supply.

    So much for my soapbox...time to do laundry know.

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Thanks for posting!