Mark 12: 38-44
The Watchful Eye aka The Money Sermon
From the New International Version, a reading from the Gospel of Mark, the 12th chapter,
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. (the scribes) They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
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. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
At first glance you might think that this is the perfect passage to hold up for reflection for a sermon on the stewardship of money. Stewardship and the widow’s mite go together like love and marriage, like pie…alamode, like turkey and stuffing! I’m sure that the widow’s mite story has been used many times before encouraging you to give; she gives everything she has and Jesus lifts her up as a model of sacrificial giving. She is generous, that’s for sure, and we think that she gives from a grateful heart. In those sermons we would be encouraged to give like this woman.
Thinking deeper and through a different portal however, this could be a passage of lament and an indictment against the religious system that was in place and what it did to its people. Jesus warns against religious hypocrisy. It wasn’t geared solely at the scribes and authorities but to anyone who professes to be faithful, and the their actions prove otherwise. The temple was rather corrupt and scandalous back in the day, money changing, buying and selling and all.
Jesus sees that. Then, after he rails against this system, the Gospel transitions to the story of this poor, poor woman who gives two small coins out of her poverty. But, think about it, she gives it to an institution that is sucking the lifeblood out of its people so that the leaders could continue their lifestyle. That is an outrage!!!!!! I can think of a few prominent preachers who have, unfortunately, done so. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Are we really supposed to admire a poor woman who gave her last cent to a morally bankrupt religious institution?”[i]
Yes, she gives sacrificially, she gives them everything, but shouldn’t the temple be taking care of her? She was a marginalized woman and the scribes where the upper echelon of the temple, they were supposed to be serving others not sponging off of them. So really, this isn’t quite the model passage for a stewardship sermon, I’d hate to think that we suck the lifeblood out of people, but it is the lectionary reading for today so we will examine it for our lives and for your making a plan for giving.
As I was reading this passage and thinking about it what struck me over the head like a ton of bricks over and over again was the line, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.” Does that strike you as odd? It was a busy temple and people were coming and going, rich and famous, poor and obscure, widowed and married all dropping their hard earned coins in the treasury. And Jesus just pulls up a chair and sits right down across from that treasury and begins to ‘people watch’. And he observes. He just watches. He looks to see what is going on.
By sitting there that day he is actually observed a lot. And when this woman leaves destitute he had had enough. He calls over his disciples and doesn’t praise her for her act of unselfish giving he merely asks them to notice her. ‘Look what’s going on here folks!’ He left it up to them to decide if she was smart to do so, or not so much. He left it up to them to figure out what was going on with the scribes, their selfish and corrupt behavior. We read into it that she is the more worthy giver, but that is our emphasis.
I think what Jesus was saying is that there are people in power and there are the marginalized and we need to lift up and take care of those people on the fringes of society, not make a buck off of them.
And then, when he leaves the temple his public ministry is over and in four days, a very tense, confusing and torturous four days he will be crucified.
What if Jesus pulled up a chair and sat watching us? What if he sat silently in this sanctuary and just watched when we brought up the brass plates filled our tithes, our gifts and our offerings? It’s a bit spooky isn’t it?
What would he see? What would he observe? What would he think? How might he describe us to his faithful disciples? What and who would Jesus’ watchful eye see coming into this temple? What might he say to his disciples about our giving?
Well I think he would see a wildly diverse group of human beings and Jesus would say that each member responds differently to the call to give. Some have millions and some have just a mite. And yet we each have our own motivation for giving. Each age and phase of life has different needs and desires and so we give accordingly.
Every person who comes our way is on his or her own journey of faith and we need to really honor that and be responsive to where they are on their journey. So we need to give so that the needs of all people can be met, so that innovative ministry can be created and happen right here.
A new mother and father are trying to do the right thing by bringing their baby to church but we all can remember how difficult it was to keep that little one from yelping out in glee. We need to give so that their needs can be met.
Someone else has mobility needs that we will never ever think of unless we metaphorically walk a mile with their crutches; we need to give so that their needs can be met too.
Look, we all have our own reason for giving, but I think at the core of our giving is compassion, community, challenge and a deep love of our Lord.
Jesus is watching. But he is not watching with a judgmental eye but with an eye towards justice and equality. He is looking to bring about the kingdom here on earth, the reign of God. Ultimately stewardship is what we do, with what we have, to accomplish kingdom living here on earth as a congregation. We are the ones who will search for and embody God’s intentions here on earth.
“Generosity is a kingdom behavior”[ii], I recently read in an article. It is the generous giving of time, skills, gifts, money, and influence to bring about the kingdom of God right here on earth. These are the tangibles.
I suspect that Jesus would approve of the ministry that we are trying to offer here but his watchful eye is upon us, to push a bit harder. I encourage you to do what Ernie Moritz challenged us to do last week. Meditate. Communicate. And then Participate.
Meditate on your personal giving plan. How has God broken into your life? How has God sustained you in the drought and benefitted you in a season of growth? Then, after considering all resources and facts determine how much you can commit to giving to our ministries. Everyone has a financial plan and hopefully OCC is a part of that plan. We are here today because of the generosity of others.
Communicate. Talk to us. Effective change doesn’t happen because of silence but happens when open communication takes place. Consensus happens in ministry when we talk with one another to achieve God’s goals for this faith community.
Participate. In the stewardship of giving it is to determine how much you can give to upholding God’s kingdom here on earth. Walk this with me. I am not afraid to talk about money in the church and from the pulpit. Money is a fact of life. I give $_____ a month. That is what I am comfortable with considering my life circumstances and needs. Maybe you can give more, maybe you can’t even come close. That doesn’t matter. Each and every gift is really important and helps to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Giving is part of your faith journey while you are here at OCC. It is just one way in which you can participate.
Jesus’ watchful eye is upon us, make no doubt about that. But it is not a critical eye. He is watching an approving of all that we endeavor to take upon us and do as a gathered community of faith. Let us not disappoint him. Let us help to advance his life and ministry here on earth.
Pray on it this week and then next week on Generosity Sunday we will dedicate our pledges. And then we will celebrate with joy and apple crisp the goodness and love of God’s kingdom.