[Today’s sermon was in conjunction with our primary presentation for our Annual Appeal, which is oriented around gathering financial pledges from members. The end of it deviated quite a bit from the manuscript printed here.] Today’s gospel seems to be a good fit, given that we’re in the middle of our Annual Appeal. We’re talking about money, and pledges, and giving, and today’s readings seem to be all about this topic. But I do want to dig in and see if that’s really what’s happening here.
Jesus points the disciples to this widow who has contributed her last two small copper coins. Together they are worth about a penny, we are told that. They are all that she has to live on, we are told that. We call them the widow’s mite, because a mite is a small amount of something.
Now, on one level we think about how generous this woman is. How deep is her devotion. How sacrificial is her giving. How profound is her trust in God and her love of God. Here we are in a season when we are thinking about whether we can increase our own pledges, or even to pledge for the first time, and here is this woman who gives extravagantly! It would be easy to stop there, especially as this is the season of our Annual Appeal, and I do hope to be encouraging generosity and sacrificial stewardship.
But that’s not what’s happening here. At least, I’m note sure that’s what’s happening here. Jesus points out this widow who put in her two last coins. I want to point out that we know nothing about her. We don’t know why she gives, or how she feels about it. We might see in her deep devotion and dedication to her religious life, but we’re providing that interpretation. There’s actually nothing in the text to support that.
What we do know is that she’s a widow. Jesus talks about a widow. Why not some other poor person? Why not an old man? Or a young couple just starting out? Jesus points out a widow who has just put her last two coins in the offering box. A widow.
And what happens right before this? Jesus is teaching against the scribes! He is calling them out, shining light on their hypocrisy: Beware of the scribes, 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 here is a widow, having been devoured, now turning in the last scraps of her material possessions to the Temple.
How is is that the Scribes devour widow’s houses? It’s not just the scribes of that age that did so. Then, as now, there are people and organizations who prey on others. They prey on hopes, and fears, and dreams, and needs. These are the scam artists who call on the phone and send spam email. They are the check-cashing places and the title loan places that charge exorbitant rent. They are the company stores of the old mining towns. They are all over the place: someone is always ready to trick someone out of their stuff, and simply because vulnerability is built in to poverty, it is the poor who disproportionally suffer from it. Jesus thought the scribes did it, or at least some of them. And churches do it now, or at least some of them.
So I’ll say more about it next week, but right at the moment you’re being reminded of our Annual Appeal. We’re talking about tithing and pledging and increasing your giving to Trinity. And yes, bluntly, it costs money to run this place, and nobody’s going to provide that money but us.
But also do not let the church devour you, or any other institution or organization or person. We need to be aware of the difference between what we need and what we want. We need to practice the gift of giving ourselves away, but there are limits.
So this widow, generous as she was in her giving, really should have been the recipient of mercy and generosity in return. Let our hearts be moved by pity and compassion for her, and let us wonder why everyone else let her reach such destitution.