Let’s be clear, right off the bat, this is not, I repeat not, a story about how little old ladies on fixed incomes should be giving more to the church. In fact, you could make the argument (and I’m going to in a minute) that this isn’t even a story about generosity, no matter how many times its been used that way. In fact, you could argue (and I’m going to in a minute) that this is a story about hypocrisy and injustice and the work of Jesus to tear it all down and start something new.
But to do that, we’ve got to back up a minute and look at the bigger picture. Far too often, this story of “the widow’s mite” get taken out, all by itself. And we just think, “Oh wow, look at that faithful old woman who just gave everything to the church.” Literally, the text reads her whole life! What a saint! But if you look close, you’ll notice that Jesus never says that’s a good thing. We infer that, because we assume Jesus would think that. But that’s not what the text says. So we’ve got to take this story and put it back into the bigger story to see what’s going on.
And what’s going on is that Jesus is sitting across from the temple, teaching his disciples, in not too subtle terms, making fun of the temple scribes. He had just come into Jerusalem 2 days ago and the first thing he did when he got into town was march straight into the temple and trash the tables of the scribes and money changers.
See, the temple used its own kind of money. So people who came in from all over the area would bring whatever money they used at home and exchange it for temple money, so they could buy and offer the necessary sacrifices. But the people running the money exchange would sometimes keep a little off the top, you know, for their troubles. But Jesus wasn’t having it, literally flipping everything over.
And on top of that little scam, you also had the tradition of scribes serving as “widow trustees”. Because scribes were among the small class of people who could read and right, they were generally well-respected. And there were, of course, many good scribes among the group. But since, according to Jewish law, women were not allowed to own property, when a woman became a widow, she had to hand over her husband’s assets to some other man.
If she had no son or other male relative, it would often end up being a scribe. And theoretically, I would be the responsibility of these scribes to ensure those widows were cared for and provided for. But, you know, my robe is getting awfully shabby. How ‘bout we just call it “compensation for my time”? I mean, really, by supporting me, you’re supporting the temple. Which is basically giving to God, right?
All these little scams and exploitations, hiding under the guise of “faithful generosity”. All those scribes and religious leaders who use their power not to protect the vulnerable, but to exploit them. To puff themselves up at the expense of others. At the expense of people like this widow. All happening, supposedly, in the name of God. And here this widow is, giving everything she has (her whole life!) to a system that is crushing her.
That’s not commendable. That’s tragic. And a gross abomination to the Lord. And Jesus will have none of it.
And as he gets up to leave the temple (we’ll read next week), he says to his disciples, “Do you see all this? All these massive stones and grand buildings? All this grandeur built off the back of the poor? It’s all coming down. Oh yeah, it’s all coming down.” The name of God will not be used to justify your greed or your arrogance or your unholy appetite for more and more and more. The Kingdom of God will not be built off the backs of the poor and vulnerable.
It’s all coming down. And in its place, the broken and shattered body of Jesus is laid as the new cornerstone. The body of Jesus, who takes the place of the weak and exploited. Who takes the place of the widow. Who gives everything to a system that crushed him. That killed him. And then destroyed it from the inside when he refused to stay dead.
And this new creation isn’t found in the halls of power or glorious monument, but in meals shared. In justice for the oppressed. In healing for the broken. In welcome for the stranger and mercy for the screw-ups. This new creation comes alive in love! God’s Kingdom comes alive in love!
And it won’t make you rich or powerful or important. No one is going to save a special seat for you. You know what, the world may not ever notice you! Who on earth would notice a destitute widow, putting a penny in the offering place?
But Jesus saw her. Jesus saw the Kingdom of God, come alive in her life. In that moment, in that offering, in that love, the Kingdom of God burst open!
That! That right there is the Kingdom!
And the world walked right on by.
But Jesus saw her. Jesus sees you. He sees the pain. He sees the struggle. He sees our poverty. Maybe of money, maybe just of spirit. Maybe just of hope. In all of who you are, Jesus sees you. And even more, he walks with you. And has torn down and flipped over the powers of this world for you! To make a place for you in God’s new creation.
And it won’t be built by us or by our magnificent achievements, but by the love of God at work. Chipping away at the stones of greed and apathy and fear. Until it all falls down. And all that’s left is love.
As Martin Luther once said, “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
This is the love of God at work. This is the Kingdom of Heaven come near.