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