Mark 12:38-44The Message (MSG)
38-40 He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they’ll pay for it in the end.”
41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.
”Let’s pick this story apart a bit. Who do you see as the hero and the villain in this story and why?
Is it possible that we villanize certain people in order to avoid examining our own propensities for hypocrisy or misdeeds, or other flaws? I know I’ve done it. I’ve actively thought, “Well at least I’m not…”
Likewise, when we focus on the sacrifice of the widow in this story, then our own inadequacies take center stage next to her sacrificial gift. We cannot imagine ourselves giving at this level. Its’ like comparing ourselves to Mother Teresa. We’ll never be like that…that good…make that much difference in the world. But that’s the problem with putting people, things, even behaviors on a pedestal. We cannot then imagine ourselves alongside them, and so we satisfy ourselves with the status quo. Nothing changes.
But what would happen if instead of comparing ourselves to the powerful people to assure ourselves we are not that bad, or comparing ourselves to the widow to remind ourselves we are not that good…what if instead we compare ourselves to the coins? Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Emily Towns, a biblical scholar, says it like this, “These coins represent more than money. They represent faith and belief and how these must be lived out in our lives in concrete acts and not solely by rituals that no longer hold religious power.”
Don’t get me wrong, there is amazing meaning and blessing in sacred rituals of the church. The way that the sacraments engage all of the senses the whole person, plus the whole of the community involved, sand then they have a unique way of binding us closer together and closer to a God that is beyond our understanding. Rituals can be full of wonder and awe, something we have all too little of in my opinion.
That said, if we become more about the rituals than who they call us to be, if we become more about going through the motions than the meaning, if we become the hypocritical Christian robots that so many already believe all worshiping communities to be…then what good are we? What are we here for? What is the meaning? If we come together each week just to feel good about ourselves and have fun together, then we are not truly coming together in the name of a God who calls us to so much more.
That is why we must be so intentional to keep serving as part of our identity in Missing Peace. But in addition to that, I hope that we will dream together about how we might be transformed, and how we might be agents of transformation. What does it really look like to be grown and challenged, and do we want that? Do we want to embrace a rhythm of life that includes sacrificial love and hope and peace? Are we really about deepening who we are as people through our relationships with others and with God? Do we want to embrace a life that calls us to give of ourselves deeply? And what in the world does it look like to be and do that joyfully?
The scriptures consistently define the role of the faith community as willingness to care for the most vulnerable in our community…the orphaned, the widowed, the elderly, the poor, the mentally ill…these practices are the very life blood of worship, and I would venture a guess its why so many churches are dying. They’ve become so focused on caring for their flock they forgot the whole rest of the world is out there. They forgot they are part of a larger community, and called to an important role of love within it. This is the role to which Jesus consistently calls us…not to have elaborate worship services or fancy accoutrements or rules and hierarchy…in fact Jesus most often speaks against that…the role we are always called to is one of radical hospitality, of abundant love for the oppressed, of joy and hope and peace.
So who will we be? What will we stand for? How will we love? What does it mean to be radically hospitable? How do we truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves? I don’t know all those answers, but I doubt there is any more capable, loving and equipped group of people than those that have gathered to be part of Missing Peace. I look around and see so much good and love, and I have no doubt as to why that “urging from beyond ourselves” has brought us all here.
I once heard a wise man say, there are two important days in your life. They day you are born, and the day you figure out why. Let us continue to journey into why we are here…its not just to grow and better ourselves, but I can guarantee that will happen along the way.