I have been posting thoughts about Sunday worship on our church’s Facebook page, usually titled: “Best Things I Heard Today.” With our changing meeting landscape I thought I would expand that practice in to a blog post.
Like many of you, Kelly and I went to church this morning online. Our church has chosen not to have live streaming, rather, they provide a template for us to do Church at Home. We have initiated a Zoom meeting with our Life Group to go over the liturgy together. Here are some musings about my Sunday morning in the age of CoronaVirus.
Our passage was Mark 12:38-44, the familiar story of the Widow’s Pennies. For many of us this is a story about money. Rich guys in the story making a spectacle of their clothing, respectability, position, and piety. But Jesus warns his disciples about these particular men, describing them as those “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40).
The connection you want to make before moving on in the story is that Jesus is probably referencing the same kind of behavior that was called out by the prophets. Isaiah says it this way: “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land” (Isaiah 5:8).
Ezekiel puts it this way: “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst, like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her ” (Ezekiel 22:25).
Micah’s description is more colorful, to say the least: “They covet fields and then seize them, And houses, and take them away. They rob a man and his house, A man and his inheritance” (Micah 2:2), and “Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?–2 you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones,3 who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron. 4 Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have made their deeds evil” (Micah 3:1-4).
These indictments of followers of God reflect their movement away from the heart of God as expressed in the law, like this one in Exodus: “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22:22-24).
Behind the Scenes
The story is not a contrast between rich and poor people and their equal value in giving. It is not a story about how 2 pennies are more than thousands of dollars in donations. It is a story about character. The widow in this story is portrayed as a woman who has had everything taken from her. A widow was the least powerful person in the culture, and this one has been disadvantaged further (by implication) in that she has been denied her rightful inheritance.
Let’s look closer, behind the scenes.
Where did the widow get the two coins? She may have gotten them from the very same rich men who were making a show of their largess. Giving alms to the poor is a characteristic of many cultures, especially Middle Eastern cultures. It would have not been outside the realm of possibility that this woman got at least a portion of her meager coinage from begging. This makes the tableau more striking. What the rich throw away to the beggars becomes the “more than all those contributing to the offering box.”
The value being pointed out here is not really about a woman giving money, even though Jesus affirms her behavior. It is not a story about how poor people need to give their last money to the church. This woman demonstrates to us at least three model characteristics (feel free to add more in the comments).
Three Character Lessons
First, she demonstrates complete trust that God would care for her. This is a difficult trait to nurture if you are poor. When you are poor you constantly struggle with insecurity, anxiety, anger, and doubt about your value and lovability. In a culture like ours where everything is valued by its financial worth, this state is a moment by moment battle for basic emotional equilibrium. Trusting is the last thing you are capable of and the first thing you need. This woman demonstrates the most difficult kind of trusting; trusting when you have nothing.
Second, she demonstrates a radical generosity. Enough said.
Third, she demonstrates kindness that is obviously the foundation of her life. When you have been taken advantage of, belittled, and viewed as unimportant the last thing most of us want to do is give, much less give sacrificially. I picture Jesus marveling at this woman and being astonished at the level of her graciousness. In the midst of her abusers she becomes the model for our generosity, not of money, but of life.
Babushka Vera - Бабушка Вера
Who is this woman in your life? I imagine all of us have had someone who was this person. For me, I think it was my Mom's mom, Babushka Vera. She was short, feisty, and faithful. She lost her arm in Russia, battled purse snatchers in East LA. Always room at the inn with her, ever kind and loving. When I read this story, I picture her at the treasury. Poor, short, and powerless; Rich in grace, tall in kindness, humbly generous. I think Jesus wants me to be a short babushka, not sure I am up for the task.
When you can't attend Church...
How are you engaging as the church these days. When we can’t “go to church” how do we experience the church. Many of us are trying to do it remotely, but this story teaches us to finally learn the lesson of “we don’t go to church, we are the church.” We do that by exhibiting trust that moves us to kindness and generosity. Figure out how to do that where you are, then you will have gone to church.
One of the couples in our group shared how they searched out organizations that they could help during the shutdown. They found a group helping distribute meals to school children who were not getting lunches, and went out to help. Others spoke of the irony of connecting with their neighbors (at a safe distance) and Kelly and I have discovered this as well. So here is to meeting Charles, Joanne, Linda, Daniel and others on my brief forays outdoors these days.Take it upon yourself to make a phone call or other connection with someone from your church. Think about someone who might be left out, or felt left out. Now is the time to take advantage of that old fashioned church directory.
Maybe I can be kinder and more generous in the future.
PS. Just a final thought because I ran across this verse but didn’t work it into the post:
When Job is forced to defend his integrity he speaks about his relationship with poor people:
16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it
18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering,
20 if his body has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate,
22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.
(Job 31:16-22 )
How are you experiencing community during this isolation season? Share your experiences in the comments section.