A Season of Commitment: Together It Is Possible
Part 1: We Commit to Work for Justice and Peace
Mark 12: 38-44November 11, 2018
Today we celebrate two occasions: Remembrance Day and the first Sunday in our fall stewardship campaign. Each year on Remembrance Day we Christians are invited to reflect on how to embrace peace in our daily lives. This is not an easy question to address. In our culture there have been voices appealing to the use of force to solve the problems of the world. These voices are still being heard from various places including our neighboring country. Many of us are not comfortable with appeals to the use of power. We Christians often refer to the way of Jesus, of non-violence, as an ideal that has always implications for bringing about God’s shalom. Further, Jesus works for peace and justice for the most vulnerable people in society. Today’s biblical story is no exception.
Today our gospel reading tells the story of a widow who put her only two coins, everything she had out of her poverty, in the temple offering. According to the words ascribed to Jesus when he speaks of the scribes as those who “devour widows’ houses,” we can assume that the widow may not have had any place to live. She was already vulnerable due to the fact that her main source of protection and identity — her husband — was dead. In Biblical literature the widow is often linked with the orphan. The woman in this story, being both a widow and poor, was practically invisible in her community. This unnamed woman was a non-being. Interestingly, the Chinese character for widow (未亡人)means a woman who has not yet died. It refers to the traditional cultural expectation that a woman was supposed to die when her husband died. This word infers disgrace in itself. I understand also that the Hebrew word for widow means leftover piece. In the patriarchal societies of ancient China or Israel and elsewhere, widows are seen as leftovers, of no use who might as well be thrown away.
And this unnamed woman steps up to the treasury—a very public place—and offers her gift, a gift that was worth a penny. It was her whole living. She put in everything she had, all she had to live on; she gave her life.
And I wonder why she did that. Certainly, the temple didn’t depend upon her small gift to maintain its functions. We know that if Jesus hadn’t called attention to her, chances are that no one would have noticed her at all. Perhaps this woman, like other brave people in that society, presented herself and her offering as a way of claiming her place in the house of God. By giving her meager offering in public, she tacitly cries out for justice, for inclusion, for the recognition that she is not worthless, that she, too, has something to offer.
I wonder, too, why Jesus calls attention to this woman. I would agree with those who have said that Jesus lifts up her gift as a profound act of faith and trust in God’s love and care. And I can see how the writer of Mark’s Gospel is using this story to illustrate the life of Christian discipleship as a life of sacrificial, self-giving love. But I have also been wondering whether Jesus calls attention to this widow and her gift as a way to highlight the injustice of a system in which some people have so much and others have so little, a system in which some receive honour and prestige because of their large gifts that don’t really cost them much, while others who give all they have are ignored, mistreated, and forgotten.
In our society today as in Jesus’ time, unjust systems drive women into poverty. For example, let’s think of a woman who spends all her life taking care of her family and has no marketable skills outside the home when her husband dies or she escapes from an abusive marriage, all she can do is housework which is severely underpaid and undervalued.
Today, we hear Jesus condemn the scribes for their hypocrisy. They revel in their positions of worldly power and pray “long prayers” so that they will look pious. But, in reality, they are not attending to the real work of God. They support the system that “devours widows’ houses” rather than work to challenge the system that discounts vulnerable human beings.
Through this ancient story we are blessed to know this her. Her two coins represent more than money. They represent faith in God’s world where everyone is supposed to be treated equally. These two coins speak about how we must live out our lives in concreate acts for justice. Upon giving her two coins she gives her whole life to reveal that the system is unjust.
I see the act of this woman as a model of stewardship. There are two aspects to stewardship. As individuals, we put our heart in God’s mission through giving our time, talent and treasure and, as a faith community, we use these resources wisely for God’s kin-dom. I am proud to know that as a faith community, we commit 10% of our offering to support the Mission and Service Fund which brings healing, justice and hope to people around the world who are suffering from injustice. This Fund also supports our ongoing effort to build right relationships with Indigenous peoples. Our support may change other people’s lives.
Because woodworking is my hobby, I am interested not only in making something out of wood, but also in learning the history of cabinet making. One of my favourite designers is Hans Wegner from Denmark who has created many recognizable iconic designs. Among his work, I like the Wishbone Chair. “A light, attractive and comfortable dining chair with the characteristic Y-shaped back, the chair is a triumph of craftsmanship with a simple design and clean lines.” Upon sitting on the chair, he once said, “A chair is only finished when someone sits in it.”
If I use this analogy for our stewardship campaign, our stewardship campaign is not complete until you participate in our ministry. With your support, “Together It Is Possible.” Now the phrase is becoming familiar. This is our slogan: With our participation, we are doing God’s mission together.
In this season of commitment, we commit ourselves again as a faith community to work for God’s mission to bring about peace and justice. This mission starts with two coins. When we offer our two coins we present all we are and all we hope to become to God in service to the world. As we give our two coins for God’s mission, we are building God’s kin-dom where God’s heart is and where our hearts are. Thanks be to God for this story of as a model of discipleship and stewardship, and for all those living out that practice of ministry among us. Amen.
Hyuk Cho (The Rev. Dr.)
West Point Grey United Church, Vancouver