Recalculating

by | Nov 7, 2021

643232366

Nancy Myer
“Recalculating”
November 7, 2021
Mark 12:38-44

Scripture:

As 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, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then 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. For 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.”

Sermon:

Picture with me for just a moment a young girl, an eighth grader. She has pin-straight hair, glasses too big for her face, and braces on her teeth – most likely with colors of the upcoming holiday. She is sitting at a desk in an English classroom, crouched over the pages of a soon-to-be published junior high yearbook, scanning feverishly for any and every grammatical error she can find. With red pen in hand, she scratches out misspelled names and draws winding arrows between misplaced captions and the pictures to which they belong. With a deep sigh, she notes that Derek Stevenson is listed as captain of the basketball team when he is actually the president of the drama club. Don’t be fooled though, this young girl finds great joy and satisfaction in all this copy editing – she’s helping to bring the yearbook to its final form.

You may have guessed it by now… that young girl was me. I confess before God and all of you, I am a grammar nerd. I claim it wholeheartedly and with pride. My English teacher, Mr. Hartman, loved our class so much in seventh grade that he requested a transfer to eighth grade English to teach us again. Mr. Hartman also saw that spark of grammatical precision in me and he knew just where to point that God-given gift – the yearbook club. I could spot a split infinitive from a mile away, knew how to put every apostrophe in its place, and even mostly knew where to add each and every comma to remedy a run-on sentence. To this day, I can and will pick apart any piece of writing or publication, and usually the typos practically jump off the page at me.

So you can imagine my delight when I started digging into this passage and found that there has been a bit of confusion – or at least mystery – caused by commas. Commas! Some of you might be familiar with the second part of the reading today – the story often referred to as “The Widow’s Mite,” but the part we read before that is what really caught the eye of this grammar nerd. “Beware of the scribes, COMMA, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” And then it goes on. It is good for us to know that in many Biblical translations, punctuation marks are inserted that were not actually there in the Greek manuscript, and in some cases, it can change the meaning of the text. So if we were to read this passage again, this time omitting the commas, we would hear this: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…” The NRSV translation leads us to believe that all of the scribes do those things. The Greek manuscript makes it sound more like just some of them do. Regardless of how many there are, Jesus says they will receive the greater condemnation.

Then, right on the heels of these long-prayer-saying, widow-house-devouring scribes, we meet a poor widow who comes along and puts in two copper coins, two lepta. The lepton is the smallest Greek coin and was only one sixty-fourth of a denarius. A denarius is what one might expect for a full day’s work – so 1/64th of that – not much at all. Mark tells us that her two copper coins were “all she had to live on.” And yet of all the large sums offered in the Temple that day, Jesus honored and spoke to the disciples about her gift alone.

Maybe it’s just our recent Stewardship campaign, but I do start to wonder where this widow’s money was going. I mean, Jesus did just criticize those scribes who devour the houses of widows. It is safe to assume the money was going to support the temple. So is the money this widow gives going to support those scribes who Jesus just condemned? A poor widow gives all she has, but is it all going to support a corrupt temple, leaving her with nothing? And yet Jesus lifts her up as an example? Something doesn’t add up.

Sometimes it’s our perspective that needs to change in order for certain events to “make sense.” This summer, you gave me the gift of sabbatical. What a gift it was, one for which I will never properly be able to express my gratitude. Part of my sabbatical included a journey out west with my mom. We planned a two-week trip-of-a-lifetime during which we visited Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and the list goes on… It was an incredible trip to say the least. There was, however, one day when my Type A, detail-oriented, perfectionist self got a little nervous. I had the Apple Maps app going, and my phone was hooked up to the car so we could see the map on the screen on the dashboard. We were following along in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming when suddenly the screen changed. It now read, “Recalculating.” I looked at my mom with a look of terror thinking, “What are we going to do?” The internet connection had gone out, and we were surrounded by nothing but… cows. Mom quickly reminded me that paper maps do still exist. She pulled out her AAA TripTik and said we would be fine. (pause) My mind shifted to thinking about what I was being taught in that moment. What recalculating did I need to do in my own life? I made a mental note to jot that thought down so I could intentionally revisit it later.

If we do a bit of recalculating with the widow, if we give ourselves a shift in perspective, we can notice something different. At second glance, we realize that Jesus doesn’t actually commend the widow’s actions. He simply states the facts. She is poor, she gives two small copper coins, and it was all she had to live on. We are left to figure out on our own why she might have done it and what we are supposed to learn from her actions.

My first inclination is to ask this poor widow a LOT of questions. Did somebody show up at your door and ask you to give? And not only to give, but to give it all? Did you know what you were doing? Did you know what the money would go to support? Were you scared? Did you wonder what you would eat for your next meal – and the meal after that –
after giving it all away?

And then I would have a whole different set of questions I wish I could ask but would probably never say to her face. ARE YOU CRAZY? What were you thinking giving away every cent you have? Why would you do something so… Irresponsible?
As many questions as I have for her, I think we have a lot to learn from this widow. I got to thinking… How might this widow invite me to recalculate my own practice of generosity? Perhaps my questions ought to be… “Who taught you how to trust like that? Will you teach me how to give so freely? Will you show me the way to sacrificial giving?” While what she did seems to me to be scary, irresponsible even, maybe instead it was faithful. While it appeared that she gave away her entire livelihood, maybe she found it to be life giving. It’s a complete recalculation, but maybe how she gave was far more important than what she gave or even to whom.

What follows next after this story is Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple, followed soon after by Jesus’ journey to the cross. If the temple was about to be destroyed, clearly the point here is not what the widow was funding with her two small coins. But in this case, it did not seem to matter to her, or to Jesus for that matter. The act of giving all she had to her name was a faithful one. I believe that she gave – yes, out of poverty – and also out of abundance. Out of an abundance of trust, faith, and wisdom beyond her years. Perhaps that is why Jesus honors her gift above all others.

There is an Instagram account called Good News Movement. Anyone may submit a story, but only good news is allowed. The stories range from surprise reunions to art displays to signs displayed by businesses and everything in between. Recently I was scrolling by, and a picture of a man holding something blue caught my eye. The caption read, “A little girl just came up to the ice cream truck and asked if she could buy ice cream with a blue rock she found. I am now one blue rock richer.” It was all she had.

And he honored it. Every now and again it’s good for us to recalculate what really matters. Many scholars believe that this story of the widow’s mite, of giving all she had to live on, is actually foreshadowing Jesus giving his whole life on the cross. If this widow’s gift reminds us that Jesus gave his life, the gift becomes even more meaningful.

It is easy to hold back when we are giving. It is easy to be comfortable givers, to keep ourselves from stretching the limits. We may be afraid to give more – of our money and of ourselves – because we do not know what the results will be. How do we give in such a way that puts our best foot forward and allows us to trust God will use us? How do we give in such a way that living faithfully outweighs and goes beyond our fear, hesitancy, and doubts? Any amount and every amount – of time and treasure – we give what we have. We give all we can. And God honors it. “For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had.” Hard as I might try, even I cannot find a single thing wrong with Jesus’ final statement about the widow, grammatical or otherwise. May we, too, learn to give freely and to trust God with all we have. Amen.