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November 1, 2015 - Mark 12.38-44

“Passion Overcomes Poverty”

Mark 12.38-44

November 1, 2015

 

38As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

 

Our text today is smack in the middle of the visit to Jerusalem, and the disciples are all “Ooohing” and “Ahhing.”  Wow, look at this temple.  Wow, look at these big buildings.  They were bowled over.  Jerusalem and the Temple were impressive.  Yet, Jesus is not impressed – not by the buildings anyway.  He is impressed by someone that is almost invisible.  While the line for the offering is moving along, and each is declaring the amount of their gift to the tally man, some giving large amounts, a small, poor widow drops in 2 lepta, or copper coins, and Jesus singles her out as a giant of faith.

The phrase “poor widow” is redundant.  There was only one kind of widow back then – poor.

This text is calling us to a wholehearted giving that transcends dollars and cents.  It is about making God our passion and giving passionately.

Not only is money not the “only thing.” It’s just A thing.  I could talk about how money is simply a mutually agreed upon illusion to keep civilization from sliding into an unrecoverable anarchy, but I won’t.  It’s just a thing.

The measure that Jesus uses to judge this widow’s gift is not sentiment, but the comparison of her gift to what she had left for herself.  Which was nothing.  She gave all.  Imagine the kind of passion that this woman had for God in order to give to God ALL that she had.  I don’t have that kind of passion.  I wish I did

 In affect, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “You have been very interested in greatness.  Look closely at her.  Here is greatness, and most of you have not noticed.  She is almost anonymous, and yet she is the greatest among all these here.”

Closely looking at this widow is essential to understanding this text, but to truly get the right picture we must look at everything. A poor woman, with very little to give, gives all that she has and is praised by Jesus. Sometimes our acts of reckless, thoughtless, and extravagant emotion are our best acts. Jesus calls us to recklessly, extravagantly, and passionately throw away all that we have and follow him.

What most interests me in this beloved story is that phrase, "but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had" (Mk 12:44). Those of us who practice a more moderate, balanced form of Christianity, for whom religious faith is a matter of reasoned deliberation and cautious examination, are judged by the testimony of this anonymous widow. In short, we fail.  She surpasses us.  Jesus admires her passion.

Being interviewed about seminary education and preparation of future clergy, Dean Greg Jones, Dean of Duke Divinity School was asked, "What quality do you want most in future clergy?"
          Dean Jones responded, "I think passion. I would look for passion. I'm looking for students who have a passion for ministry, a desire for God, and a love for the Church."
"Passion?" I thought we were Christians. We are against passion!

Wasn’t Passion the name of a Soap Opera?  Isn’t passion the kind of thing that makes you think of a bad actor and actress slobbering on each other in a hormone fueled melodrama?
No. Paul says that the three greatest human attributes in the world are, "faith, hope, and love" (1 Cor 13).
          Aren't all of these emotions, passions, and desires?  So why is it hard for us to be passionate and emotional for God. 

 

Even the grammar of our language has a negative view of emotions. We say that our emotions get the best of us. One is struck by jealousy, paralyzed by fear, overwhelmed with emotion. One falls in love, is madly in love, green with envy, fighting mad, or insane with jealousy.
          With emotions we are, "Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered," as the song says.
We become the victims of emotions. We say, "I'm sorry, I just got carried away."
Emotions involve suffering. The very word passion means "suffering." The very word expresses the idea that feelings take us off in the wrong direction. In Buddhism, the Sanskrit word for emotion is "affliction."
          Aristotle urged us to aim for the golden mean. We are to aim for that state in life where we are balanced, not too much on the one side or the other our reason rules.

If you have ever wondered where the inspiration for the Star Trek alien race the Vulcans came from, it came from the Greeks.

 

Years ago, during one of the presidential elections, William Buckley and the author Gore Vidal were offering color commentary on the nomination process during the political convention. Throughout their time together, Vidal kept taunting Buckley. Finally, Buckley, as we say, lost it. He let forth a string of insult and invective against Vidal.
          Later, Buckley was quoted as saying, "He won." That is, Buckley lost it, gave in to his emotions, and thus allowed Vidal to defeat him.
          Isn't it interesting that we say, when we have given in to our emotions, that we lost it? To be a mature, thoughtful human being, one cannot lose it; one cannot give in to emotions. Thus, the Greeks conceived human life as a long process of the utilization of reason and the suppression of emotion.
          But then, here comes Jesus. An old lady passes by the temple treasury as people are putting their offering in the coffers. It isn't just that she gave but that she gave everything she had. All. Others gave more money, but she gave a greater proportion of what she had.
Why did she give it all? We are not told. Jesus simply notes the effusive, extravagant nature of her giving. She gave all, this poor widow. The one who had the least, gave the most.
Why? What was her reason for giving? Perhaps there was no reason because what she did was quite beyond mere reason. Perhaps she got carried away in her religious devotion; I've known folk who have.

Tony Campolo has lamented that as a culture, we do not even sin with passion anymore.  We have become numb.  Campolo reminds us that we have seen the same thing over and over again on the news.  A young criminal is found guilty of murder and the judge reads the verdict, and the “defendant showed no _______ (emotion).”

In the old days at least we sinned with passion.  As in the character of Lady MacBeth, in her sleepwalking scene, seeing blood dripping from her hands, "Out, damned spot!" and "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."  Now that’s a sin.

But we don’t even have the passion for that.

 

Some people do not come to Christ out of decision based on their intellect.  If you ask them about their Christian commitment, how did they decide to follow Christ, you will find it was not so much a matter of their decision. It was an emotion, a feeling, or an extravagant example of someone carried away. Perhaps being a Christian, for many of us, is not a matter of decision and deliberation but a matter of feeling, a matter of the affections.
          I fear that sometimes those of us in mainline Protestant Christianity may have over-rationalized the Christian faith, presenting Christianity as a matter of belief, principle, and ideas. There are churches that keep reminding themselves that it's a matter of the affections, something that you feel in your heart before it gets in your head.  I think Jesus gets in your heart before he gets in your head.

 

C. S. Lewis depicts his devil, Screwtape, advising his apprentice devil that moderation is one of the keys to avoiding the Christian faith:

"Talk to him about 'moderation in all things.' If you can get him to the point of thinking that 'religion is all very well up to a point,' you can feel happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all and more amusing."[1]

Lewis also, in his book, Surprised by Joy, puts it this way

"Give up your self, and you will find your real self.  Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being and your will. Find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in."[2]

 

This isn’t about money; it’s about your heart, your soul, dreams, desires.  It’s about your passion.  Where is it?  What is it for?

 

The widow’s passion for God is contrasted to the scribes passion about themselves.  The widow is centered on giving to God, the scribes are centered on themselves.  Here is the lesson.  The widow’s passion for God makes her poverty non-existent.  The scribes lack of passion for others makes their souls impoverished.

 

A few weeks ago, we looked at the scripture about Blind Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus’ response to Jesus’ calling of him was to throw off his cloak.  The cloak for a blind person was their only protection, and a sign of their situation.  It protected them.  Without his cloak, Bartimaeus was commiting to his new life as a man no longer blind.  His passion for following Jesus led him to throw off all he knew.  The widow gave all she had in her passion for her love of God.

 

In other words, the widow is a faithful hero. The widow gave all she had.  When it came time for Jesus to demonstrate how much He loved you and me, please take note that he did not say, “I am willing to love you, but only up to a point.  How about say, 50%?  Is that a good number?  Sounds pretty generous to me.”  Nope.  Jesus stretched out his arms as far as they would go, said “I love you this much.”  And he died that way.  He gave all.  The widow gave all.  And that is what Jesus wants from us.  All is all Jesus wants.  If all you can give is some, then forget about it.  All is all Jesus wants.

Get passionate.  Get emotional.  Lose yourself in Jesus. 

 

[1] (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.)

[2] (C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.)