As it turns out, I’m not so bad at this. I preached my very first sermon in my preaching course last Friday, and I thought I’d post my notes here. They’re just notes–really; most of what I had was in my head, and I paced in front of the lectern, discussing things.
Critiques are very welcome. Also because this passage is coming up for November 11 this year.
The Gospel Passage is:
New International Version (NIV)
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
- This story is about things that are not what they seem.
- First, the scribes are not what they seem. The people see them as honorable fellows, but they are instead abusing the honor accorded to them by giving hollow prayers for show, and in the mean time, devouring the less honorable among them.
- Second, the offering of a poor widow is said to be worth more than the offerings of wealthy people.
- Jesus teaches the people and his disciples that what they see, what they expect, is not what it seems to be.
- That is the same for us when we read this story as Christians, 2000 years later. The story is not what it seems.
- Our first inclination is to take the story at face-value. We praise the widow for her faithful offering. She has given up everything. She is the model of true faith and Christian Sacrifice, one who gives all of her being—all of her livelihood—to God.
i. This story has also been called a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Christ will make on the cross. She is a Christ-like figure to be lauded and emulated in a faithful Christian life.
- There is a deep value in giving out of poverty. In all of our lives, we will be asked give when we feel poor—either monetarily poor, spiritually poor, poor for time, or poor for emotional energy.
- This teaching tells us that what we give out of wealth is simple, but what we give out of poverty is enormous, and important in building our faithful community.
- It is easy for us to say, here is the answer, and stop there. Simple, clean cut. Clap your hands and move on.
- But, we’re not done. Because this isn’t really what it seems like either, and when we go deeper, we see that taking that attitude is irresponsible in regards to this text.
- Just moments before, Jesus tells us: beware of the scribes. Be aware. This lingers with us as we continue into the anecdote about the widow, and here Jesus’ teaching presents us with a problem.
- Though the woman’s act is the pinnacle of faith, she is devoured—at the mercy of—these men who Jesus denounces.
- The text may be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice—Jesus’ crucifixion—but the text stops at the sacrifice. There is no redemption for this woman, no resurrection.
- The scribes have shirked the faithful gift that the widow gave, devouring her household.
- Jesus has something important to say about this scene: he is not only talking about the act of giving, but the abuse of that act, the abuse of the faith in which it is given.
- Jesus points out a systemic evil in the way that human religious practices and faithful sacrifice actually interact. He shows us a scene that should deeply worry—deeply upset—us.
- And, that’s when I have to be honest with myself. There is a lotof these scribes in me.
- That is what we are doing here, isn’t it? Learning specialized things so that we can go out and lead in our religions?
i. Here I am, learning how to be a religious leader, from one of the best universities in the country. The University of Chicago.
ii. I want to sit at an honorable table, and have a voice that is heard in discourse, with my well-respected degree.
iii. I want to wear nice, respectable clothes, and long, flowing robes in front of a congregation.
iv. I want to know the people at Treasure Island and greet them, and be greeted by them.
v. I want to be that good, honorable, distinguished person. Well known and well liked, and recognized as deserving of that status.
- To achieve that, I can learn how to be religious, how to follow the prescriptions of of stories like this, based on their surface meanings. I can learn to give of myself when I feel poor.
- But that would be too much like giving long prayers for show. There is more that I have to do. More that we have to do, to be responsible to this teaching.
- In order to truly hear Jesus’ teaching in this passage, I have to see more than just what I expect to see; do more than just what others expect me to do.
- The story of the widow is too closely interlocked with the denunciation of the scribes. We cannot simply desire to become like the widow without also seeing the scribes in ourselves, how we enable others to be devoured.
- All of us are like the scribes in some way. We all have some form of power over another that we can corrupt and use to devour.
- All of us are like the widow in some way. We have places where we are poor, where we can offer ourselves to others, even though it is frightening and difficult to do so.
- The teaching in this passage is one of a dual-responsibility. One is the responsibility to build a new Christian community out of giving in poverty. The other is the responsibility to build a new Christian community out of receiving, and cherishing the livelihood that others give us.
- This story is not what it seems. If we want to use it to grow as faithful people, we must look at it as something that not only teaches us how to give, but also how to receive.