Posted on Nov 11, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…” (Mark 12:8). It sounds to me like Jesus is condemning the Jewish system, doesn’t it? But, if we are going to really understand the profound analysis Jesus is offering here, we must move beyond some of our prejudices. As Christians, we must recognize the prejudices that many of us have in our understanding of the scribes, and Pharisees and others with whom many in the Gospels seem to have had antagonistic relationships. Jesus wasn’t condemning Judaism itself; no, instead he was using the behavior of the scribes to highlight a phenomenon that seems to be common among many if not all cultures, not only then, but now, as well.
Today, and in Jesus’ day, the wealthy and powerful in virtually every society have been arbitrarily granted such things as intelligence, wisdom, decency, and for many, the wealthy and powerful are even considered to have an extra blessing from God. Think about it; in our own culture today, regardless of their education or real expertise, we treat the rich and famous as if they have knowledge to impart to us all simply because they are famous, powerful, and generally rich. Oftentimes if a person is wealthy we tend to believe that they are in some way superior to the poor and working class. Our biases assume that if one is wealthy that somehow they are better than others; and yet, in many cases, underlying all the glamour and beauty of the wealthy, there lies a moral uncleanliness that has been produced by ill-gotten wealth and power. And this is the “system” and bias that Jesus is condemning in our story today.
Jesus declares that for those who have gained wealth and power, or use their power and wealth, by abusing others, and/or taking advantage of others, those people will have much to answer for before God.
Now, I don’t know about you, but as I listen to this, I selfishly am thankful I am glad I am not rich and powerful. I mean, I don’t want to be under such a condemnation from God. But, the truth is, I think Jesus is speaking to most of us today. Earlier this week, I met with the Thrivent community engagement leader for our area. As we were talking about ways that Thrivent and Salem might partner in the near future in community ministries, we began to talk about finances and the costs of doing ministry, and in that conversation she shared with me that if a person makes $40,000 per year, they are well within the top 1% of income earners in the world. That means for most of us in this room we make more income than almost 7.4 billion people. We are the wealthy.
Now, that does not make us bad people and that does not mean God is going to condemn us because we are among the wealthy of this world. It also does not mean that God loves us more, or that God has somehow given us more blessings than the rest of the world. But it does mean that as those who have more, God does expect us to use our riches (and I don’t just mean our money) to serve this world. God expects us to be those good stewards who find ways to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, and stand with and protect the marginalized and those who cannot care for themselves. God expects us to use our abundance to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, and that ought to bring joy to us.
Now, if you are like me, you are probably sitting there and thinking, wait a minute, I am not rich. I have a mortgage to pay, a car to pay off, I have college loans to pay off, or I have kids to send to college, and the list goes on. I don’t have enough to do what God expects. But that is exactly the thinking and system that Jesus is condemning today. Today we are being challenged to ask ourselves, when is enough enough?
“[Jesus] 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' ” (12:41-44).
For the most part, our world today operates under a theology of scarcity that is, as Walter Brueggemann, a world-renowned theologian, describes, a “theology of scarcity says there’s not enough food, water, housing, etc., so hold onto what you have, hoarding it if you must.” On the other hand, Brueggemann goes on, “a theology of abundance says you always have 'enough' so it’s easy to give some of it away.” Whether we want to admit it or not, our God is a God of abundance, and regardless of the scare tactics marketers, politicians, and others try to use to control us, today Jesus is reminding us that we are called to be a people of abundance. We are called to hear the words, “you have more than enough!”.
Today we heard about two widows, who by the standards of the world were irresponsible. One gave away her last crumbs of food and the other gave her last penny, appearing to be giving all they have, but both gave with joy. They didn’t give out of theology of scarcity; they gave out of they theology of abundance. They weren’t acting irresponsibly; no, they were acting faithfully. These two women didn’t buy into the fears that so many believed. They obviously refused to believe that if they gave away what they had, they wouldn’t have enough. They believed that God would provide, and God did.
This week we finally brought to an end the long period of political campaigning, and for the past year and a half, all we have heard from the politicians is fear. All of them tried to scare us into believing that only they could give us enough. They used a theology of scarcity to gain our votes. All too often, we in the church do the same. We try to scare people into giving.
But the truth is, giving and sharing our wealth isn’t something we ought to do out of fear. Yes, God does command us to give and to share, but not out of fear; God says give out of your abundance and give with joy. The world is wrong; there is plenty for everyone. I know this because God said so. Our call, our job, our desire, ought to be to share the wealth we have so that we can continue to be a blessing to this world.
This week you all should have received your pledge packets. Oh, I know what you're thinking, “Here we go, now pastor is going to tell us why we have to give our money to the church.” Well, you are wrong. What I am going to do is ask you to pray and give thanks to God for the gift of abundance we have. I am going to ask you to prayerfully consider how, with joy, you might offer a pledge to support and help grow the ministries offered here at Salem, because it is out of our abundance that this faith community continues to be a blessing to the wider world.
We have so many opportunities before us. Our Pantry Pack program will most likely support over 60 families this week with Thanksgiving dinner boxes, and we support 30-40 families weekly. As you witnessed a couple of weeks ago, our youth program continues to support and nourish our youth in their faith. Weekly, 30-40 kids are here in Sunday school learning about a God that loves them so much, as they are, that he died for them.
Today, I pray that we might seek to be like that poor widow who gave “two copper coins” when one coin would have been enough. You see, we have enough; we just need to be willing to share what we have, not out of obligation, but out of our joy and our abundance. Amen.