24th Sunday after Pentecost 2015
+ In Nomine Jesu +
In 2008, former chairman of the NASDAQ Bernie Madoff was arrested for operating a Ponzi scheme, the magnitude of which was more devastating than any scam in U.S. history.
Mothers, daughters, and truck-drivers, financiers, electricians, and widows – they all lost big. Piggy banks were broken, savings accounts were emptied, and dreams were dashed. They trusted Mr. Madoff with their futures because they believed he’d be wise and discerning, and that he’d take care of them. In a word, they had faith in him.
You can tell they had faith because they gave all they could to this fund, trusting that it would pay off, and that they would be taken care of. Today, Jesus sees something similar taking place.
The Scribes he points out are members of the clergy who administer the Temple’s finances. They were well educated, and sophisticated, and rich. Scribes were the upper crust. They wore the best clothes, and had amazing sales pitches masked as pious prayers.
They were a lot like the indulgence preachers Luther railed against, and maybe even a bit like Bernie Madoff.
Coercing the impressionable with their false prayers, the scribes took advantage of those in need; they ignored their responsibilities, and they sent the needy away empty.
And caring for those in need was their job!
At that time, when a husband died, the inheritance passed to the son, not to the wife. So now after this woman has suffered the loss of her husband, she also has no inheritance, and little to nothing to live on. She depended on the Temple to take care of her. And by Jesus’ report, the temple scribes were not quite fitting the bill.
But this arrangement wouldn’t last forever. Immediately after this, Jesus leaves the Temple speaking a promise that soon there will not be one stone left upon another. Soon His own Apostles and His own bride, the Church, would be the ones taking care of the poor.
So Jesus is not only warning the disciples to beware of the scribes so that they are not taken advantage of, He is warning them to be on guard so that they do not become like the scribes. But for now, the widow givers her last penny in faith that she will be taken care of. The scribes who devour widows’ households couldn’t even make an appetizer out of these mites, so they don’t notice her. But Jesus does.
Like the widow of Zarephath in today’s OT lesson, this woman gives all she has in faith that God, in His own way and in His own time, would see that she is taken care of. That’s what Jesus wants most – for you to trust Him.
Jesus doesn’t use coercion the way the scribes, indulgence preachers, and Bernie Madoff do. He loves a cheerful giver. So does it make you cheerful to know that about 80% of the congregation’s budget comes from less than 20% of her members? Does it make you cheerful to give 1% off the bottom instead of 10% off the top?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter two mites to Jesus if your number is 1%, 10%, or 30%. The thing is that He is a first-fruits sort of God, and whatever is left over after you’ve looked after yourself, even if it’s 50% is not so pleasing.
So if $20 in the plate as it goes by really is all you can give, give it cheerfully in the knowledge that the Lord can do more with it that you or I can. Consider the widow, whose two mites have been multiplied and magnified by Jesus to bless billions of Christians for generations.
But whatever you’re giving, let it be first fruits and not the last fruits. Let it be given intentionally, consciously, and purposefully. Let your giving be done joyfully; and let it be done confidently, knowing that the Lord will use your gift well.
But if that were everything, and we were simply left with an example of faith in action, we’d still be walking out of here today with less than we need. That’s why instead of telling you the story of a widowed bride who gave her last two pennies to a corrupted temple that was awaiting total destruction, Jesus gives us something much more.
Try as we might, our best efforts are always going to tell a less than stellar story. But if you want to hear the story of One who gives everything – literally, everything, then Jesus has just the story for you.
This is His last time in the temple. From here our Lord is going to be betrayed. He is going to trial. He is going to the cross. There on the cross, Jesus’ story culminates as He, the very Son of God, gives Himself for that corrupted Temple, for that poor widow, for his disciples, for His bride, the Church; for all of you…
Unlike you and me, whose motives can never be perfect and pure, Jesus gives only out of divine, goodness, mercy, and self-sacrificing love for you. And He gives abundantly.
Like the poor widow, we would be on the outside, without an inheritance – poor, and despised. But Jesus won’t have that. By water and His Word, he has baptized you into His Name. He has washed away your sins, your greed, and your unfaith, and made you co-heirs, co-inheritors of His Kingdom.
Come back at 11 and watch it happen live!
Like the poor widow, we would be hungry. And so far more than giving us the simple bread which He provides to all people, here, at this altar, Christ feeds us with Himself; His entire self: His very Body and Blood, soul and divinity, for the forgiveness of all our sins, – for life, and salvation. So now we, the Church, the bride of Christ, His body on Earth, we get to go away today forgiven, blessed, strengthened, and fed.
We get to depart from this place to love our neighbors as ourselves;
to care for the least the most; to support the needs of their bodies and soul,
and to tell all the world, to tell our neighbors,
that in Christ you do have an inheritance;
that for Jesus’ sake you are in and not out;
that you are always loved, and never alone.
That we are not a poor widow.
Our bridegroom lives.
And He is coming soon to His eternal wedding feast;
of which we now receive a foretaste.
To Christ be all the glory forever and ever. Amen.