maybe there’s more to it

Posted on

November 11, 2018

Text: Mark 12:38-44

Deacon Intern Alexandra Benson

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the One calls us into generous love, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Many scholars believe that the book of Mark was perhaps written to be performed, like a play. Most people way back in the day couldn’t read and early Christians, having been transformed so deeply by their encounters with Jesus, wanted to find a way to share the stories of Jesus life and ministry with others. A play was one way to do this. So, in light of this historical tidbit, I’ve been wondering this week about what this scene, often called the “Widow’s Mite” or the “Widow’s Offering” would look like as a screenplay.

I’ve taken a couple creative writing classes over the years, and along the way have picked up a few tricks of the trade. First, as many writers will tell you, you need to pay careful attention to the setting: to the time and place of your story. For everything from culture and language to politics and landscape shape who your characters are, how they understand the world, and why they act the way they do. As many effective writers will tell you, it is important to know the backstory of the people about whom you’re writing. Whether writing for movies or plays, biographies or history books, paperback fiction or academic essays, good writers spark curiosity and insight into the human mind: into people’s motivations and fears and quirks and greatest joys. And, I think paying attention to these details and asking good questions about a text or production makes us better readers and listeners too.

So, as we set the scene for our gospel story today, we need a little bit of background. We know some things about widows in Jesus’ day. It was a patriarchal society, meaning men held all of the power. Women couldn’t own land or money and were basically just viewed as property. Because of a system outside of their control, women and girls had to totally depend on their fathers or husbands or brothers for basic resources like food and clothing and shelter. If a woman found herself without the support of one of these men, particularly if a woman’s husband died and she became a widow, it was the responsibility of the larger society to take care of her. We know that Scripture is filled with God’s call to care for the orphan and the widow and the poor.

Women don’t get a lot of screen time in the Gospel of Mark, so I’m especially curious about this widow’s story. We get very few details, so I have to do a whole lot of wondering. I wish I knew her name or her age. Does she look like the woman on our bulletin – skin wrinkled with age and wisdom and years under the piercing rays of the Middle Eastern sun? Or, in an era in which women were married as teenagers, is she a young widow? Maybe 14, 15, 16? Left powerless without the support of her husband, scared and lonely and vulnerable? We don’t know.

I want to know this character’s back story. I wonder what happened to her husband. Was their relationship a happy one? What does she miss about him? I wonder what her grief was like. Has anyone noticed her or taken the time to check in on her since he died? Is she terribly lonely? Doesn’t she have any other family to take care of her? Have they turned their backs on her, simply forgotten her? Maybe they don’t have the means to help her out. Perhaps she’s a migrant, far away from those she loves.

I wonder about her childhood. Was it a happy one? Did she have hopes and dreams for future, or was it simply one of hard work and little hope? Is she shocked at how things have turned out for her, or is it simply how she expected to end up? After all, maybe she comes from a poor family, a long line of women who have found themselves totally dependent on a system that sucks them dry time and again.

And I wonder about her past few days. Where did she sleep last night? When was her last meal? Where does she go to get a cool drink of water or to rest her feet after a long day? Where are the people who should be caring for her?

And I wonder what she’s feeling as she drops those last two coins in that offering plate.

I wonder why she gave. Did she feel obligated? Did she feel like she had a choice? Was it an act of courage and dignity and inspiring generosity? It bugs me a little to be honest. My instinct is to run up to that offering plate, grab those two coins right back and insist she keep them. After all, she needs them more than the temple does. The system has already sucked her dry, taken all she has, and spit her back out with nothing. These are people who should have been caring for her, and yet here she is, unnoticed, unwanted, with nothing to live on. I’m furious on her behalf. I want Jesus to do something about it, right then and there. I want him to fix it, to take away her pain, to provide for her financially and spiritually and emotionally. I want her grief to be swallowed up. I want equity in the system that oppresses the poor and humiliates the vulnerable. And in this scene, Jesus just sits there and watches it happen.

But maybe there’s more to it than that.

If Mark were a movie, the focus in this scene would initially be on important people in their fancy robes – we’d hear loud arguments and the busy leaders of a bustling society. If we got super edgy and made a modern-day movie version of the gospel, we might see people dressed up in fancy business suits, powerwalking down the sidewalk, eyes glued to their iPhones. Tourists might pause to look up in awe at the tall fancy buildings, to gasp and wonder if the person on the other side of the street is a certain celebrity—maybe a movie star or a famous politician or the CEO of a well-known Fortune 500 company. We might be caught in the glitz and glamor and the excitement of being in the presence of the powerful and talented and beautiful.

And then Jesus would the scene on the head. He takes charge of the camera crew, redirects our focus entirely. Otherwise we might totally miss her: the unnamed widow, a woman of quiet dignity, grace and courage. A woman who has been the victim of a corrupt system, who has been taken advantage of, abandoned, and hurt. A woman who gives all that she has to the very community that has failed her. A woman who would otherwise fade into the background of all the bustle and noise and consuming and greed and simply gives the little she has. Most people don’t notice. The world keeps moving, the leaders keep arguing, the important people keep strutting around being important.

But Jesus sees her. And Jesus invites us to see her too.

There’s something so powerful about simply being seen, isn’t there? And not just a surface level kind of seen, but knowing that we’re seen in our beauty and in our deepest struggle. That we’re seen even when we’re not the ones in the center of attention, when we’re not the ones getting the praise and recognition, when we’re not the featured success story, when we’re not the ones speaking from the pulpit.

There’s something incredible about being seen even when the system tries to ignore that you exist or when people refuse to hear your story because it is too painful or makes others uncomfortable.

There’s something lifechanging about finally being seen when you’ve spent a lifetime trying to be noticed by people who are too busy or overwhelmed or trapped in their own struggle to give you a second glance.

There’s new life in being seen for your humanness, for your dignity, for seemingly small acts of courage and generosity when the whole world seems to tell you that you don’t matter, that you’re done for, that nothing you do can ever make a difference in your own life or in the lives of others.

Jesus sees you.

And, what a profound gift it is to truly see others for the first time. An uncomfortable gift maybe, but a freeing one. Jesus gives us a gift when he nudges our focus from ourselves and the big shots of the world and says, Hey. See that woman? The one you almost overlooked? The one that you thought was hopeless and insignificant and unworthy? Well, she too is my disciple.

Jesus isn’t glorifying her poverty or the systems that have hurt her. But he sees her, a woman bearing the weight and consequences of the world’s greed, and shows us what it truly means to give everything. The woman gives her all, and leaves the temple. We don’t know what happens to her. We don’t know if she is provided for by others or if she simply has no more resources to live. But we do know that Jesus also leaves the temple, where he also enters into the deepest suffering and poverty and humiliation of this world, even to the point of death on the cross. He sides with the brokenhearted, the poor, the widow, the orphan, those caught in webs and systems of suffering and abuse and neglect and pain and struggle. He bears the weight of human sin, of insecurity and fear and systems of oppression and violence and greed. Like the widow, he gives everything he has, not with attention seeking and glory hoarding, but with quiet dignity and courage and compassion – even for those who have hurt him. And in his death and resurrection, he puts those things to death, revealing to us that even in our deepest need, God is there.

So, maybe as we watch this scene unfold, we identify with the woman. We have felt invisible and helpless, caught in a system that takes advantage of us, living in a society that would much prefer to look the other way than to hear our story and see our deepest need and struggle. Maybe, like the widow, we feel like we’ve given every last thing we have – every last drop of energy, every ounce of willpower, every little bit of courage, as much of our emotional, financial, or tangible resources that we can muster. Maybe we’ve given these things out of joy or obligation or dignity or radical trust or even fear – if we’re being honest, probably a conglomeration of all of those things. Maybe simply getting up in the morning and digging deep to show up to school, to work, to worship feels as significant as the widow dropping in her final two coins into that offering plate. We’re longing to be seen and freed from this exhausting cycle.

And maybe, we also identify with the scribes. A little too caught up in ourselves and in the vicious cycle of greed, anxiously hoarding resources like time, money, and power. We’re terrified of what would happen if we lost our own sense of importance and inflated self-worth and comfort, so we keep consuming and scrambling up the social ladder and doing everything we can to convince everyone that we’ve got it all figured out and put together. We’re so worried about our own status and reputation that we’ve started to confuse ourselves and our institutions with God.

But we too are longing to be seen and freed. We may not know it, or even want it, but we need to see the suffering widow right in front of us. Because I think when we see her, we also see Jesus.

And when we see Jesus, we see the One who is looking right back at us, first calling us Beloved and then inviting to experience a Kingdom in which greed and suffering have lost all power, leaving in their place only abundant and generous love that knows no end. And, be warned, it’s a love that calls us to give every last thing that we have – but we can trust that in God, we have all that we need for the journey as the credits begin to roll and we too follow Jesus out of the temple and into the world.