Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Wicker Park Lutheran Church
Vicar Sarah Derrick
November 11, 2018
I remember the first time I heard today’s gospel story. It is one of the handful of Sunday school lessons I can vividly remember. I was sitting in a Sunday school room at the end of the hallway of Zion Lutheran Church with the other 3rd graders, and together we round-robin read the verses. I remember the Weekly Reader-style handout that went along with the lesson: pictures of the story, a cartoon depiction of each frame of the story: Jesus teaching the disciples, all smiles, pointing out the religious leaders, an older woman approaching with her coins, placing them in a large container.
and I remember our teacher, Ms. Rhonda, emphasizing how this passage ends: with the widow, placing coins that are equivalent to a penny into the treasury, or as our teacher taught it, into the offering plate.
The moral of this Sunday school lesson: If this woman, who has nothing, can give so generously, then we should be as faithful and give all that we have to Jesus.
Not a bad message, right? When we see how faithfully others give, it can and should inspire us in our generous giving.
But I also remember crying when I read this lesson. I remember finishing the story and becoming so sad that this woman had to give away everything she had.
What was she going to eat? Where was she going to sleep? I remember not feeling a sense of compulsion to give generously, but instead I remember feeling a fear, an anger, and a sadness that this would be what God would desire for this woman. And it made me upset.
Over time, though, this story became a part of my repertoire for stories that I could say taught us about stewardship, about trusting God by giving generously, no matter how much we have or how much we don’t have. I slowly forgot about learning this story in Ms. Rhonda’s Sunday school class, and my initial reaction… that is, until I revisited the text for this week’s sermon. For some reason, this memory came flooding back as I read and wondered what God might be doing in me and among us this week as we encounter this gospel reading.
Because, see, I actually wonder if third-grade Sarah knew something about what was going on in this story. I wonder if our kids, our elders, our neighbors in poverty, our neighbors seeking refuge… the very people Jesus continually pointed toward in his ministry, are the very ones who can help us understand these passages we sometimes think we know all about.
I think the fact that this passage made me so sad as a child is worth looking into. Just a few verses before the widow comes on the scene, Jesus is teaching the disciples, across from the treasury, pointing at the rulers in power in their robes, saying, “Beware of these people! They don’t always use their power in the right way, they take advantage of people, they exploit people, they strip vulnerable people of all that they have.” And it didn’t take long for Jesus and the disciples to witness an example of this. A widow comes up, and gives what very little she has to satisfy what is required of her.
Jesus’ response… it actually isn’t what I remembered it being. Jesus doesn’t say:
“She did the right thing.”
“How amazing that she gave so faithfully”
“Be like her.”
No, instead Jesus reminds the disciples of what he had taught them moments earlier. He invites the disciples to look at the widow, to really see her, and to see what has just transpired. He says that “surely, this woman has given more than anyone else. She has put in all that she has, all that she had to live on.”
That’s it. That’s the story.
And I think feeling like something isn’t right here whether you feel it in your gut, in your heart, or in your head… it is not only appropriate, I think it is actually the very message Jesus was hoping to teach the disciples.
Because it’s not right.
It isn’t right that people are taken advantage of in this world.
It isn’t right that people in poverty and people of color sit in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford bail.
It isn’t right that some people have to get sick because they can’t afford to stay well.
It isn’t right that politicians are swayed by money and not by human experience.
It isn’t right that beloved children of God are shot and killed at a rate so high that we are no longer surprised while corporations profit from the sale of assault weapons.
And as Jesus points out, the corruption of greed and power will cost some all that they have—and for Jesus, it will cost him his life.
It isn’t right.
About a month ago I was sitting in the Human Services office below Hyde Park. It was a long wait and the room was filled. Hours passed, and we were all waiting for our names to be called. If your name was called and you didn’t hear it, or if you had stepped outside to eat or take a break or pick up your kids from school, you were out of luck. A man who had been sitting near me turned to the woman next to him and said, “I need to go to the bathroom, but if they call my name, will you tell them I’m here?”
Will you tell them I’m here?
It’s a question that has stayed with me, and I wonder if this isn’t part of Jesus’ lesson to the disciples. Will you tell those in power that the widow is here? That she matters? That she isn’t to be looked over?
Sometimes, I think we know these things happen around us, we can see that brokenness exists, but we also find ourselves saying, “That’s just the way it is.” “The system isn’t perfect, but what’s the alternative?”
The alternative is seeing the widow.
The alternative is speaking up for the one who’s stepped away at the Human Services office.
The alternative is putting your legislators on speed dial.
The alternative is working together in our communities with our neighbors to bring about change that not only keeps the two coins in the widow’s purse, but creates resources and opportunities so that she doesn’t have to decide between eating and paying her taxes in the first place.
It is possible. It’s possible because of who Christ is and what the Spirit continues to do in and among us even still.
This is the life into which we have been baptized. Alongside Sal, the disciples and all the saints, we promise to see the widow and testify to the subverting power of Christ among us.