Salem Lutheran Church


Social justice: spiritual practice

Mark 12:38-44 Common English Bible (CEB)

As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”

Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

At first glance, this scripture seems pretty cut and dry. Our takeaway is that we should give ’til we bleed like the good widow, right? But isn’t it interesting that Jesus doesn’t commend the widow for her gifts. Is it possible that Jesus is admonishing the system that isn’t caring for the widow in the first place while taking advantage of her faithful giving? If so, what lessons are we to glean from that???

Rodger Nishioka wrote in Feasting on the Word, “Readers of this text must reflect seriously upon their own complicity in current systems of violence and oppression. But reflection alone is not enough. Reflection must lead to specific and sustained action by engaging spiritual practices that challenge political and economic systems in the church, the nation, and the world. Feeding the hungry and providing clothing are important spiritual practices, but the church must come to view these practices as more than programs. The church must come to understand these practices as the very life flowing out of its worship. Further, the church must call all of society to care for the orphan, the widow, the resident alien, the poor and its primary purpose, with all other governing and political functions as secondary. In this way the church not only exhibits God’s righteousness but shapes a politic that is in itself righteous.”

Whoa, church, whoa. So we aren’t just talking about being nice to our neighbors. Are we talking about taking part in changing systems that oppress our neighbors — as spiritual practice?? This means actively working to make life better for the oppressed, the refugee, the LGBTQIAA, the asylum seeker, the broken, those taken advantage of, those who didn’t begin the race on the same starting line — the marginalized, not just from the comfort of our church pews, but out in our world. If we were to adopt this spiritual practice, it would change how we worship, how we go into meetings at work, how we vote in elections, where we shop and what we buy, how we talk to our friends and colleagues, who we consider friends. We will find ourselves wrestling with the impossible question of “how am I contributing to a system that oppresses others?”. Heavy, right? But, those are the questions that help us grow. As any teenager or house plant will tell you, growing isn’t easy and is often painful. But the outcome is beautiful. If you feel as overwhelmed as I do by this, start by praying, but don’t stop there. I pray we don’t stop there.

Dear God,

Search my heart, help me to see what I can do to make a difference in the world. Help me to feel inspired by the work ahead, and not overwhelmed. Help me be honest about what I have, what I can do, and where I can help. Open my eyes, my heart, and my mind.

Knock me forward when I ignore your nudging.


Emily Nelson Dixon
Director of Teen Ministries and Outreach

Tags: Weekly Word