The gospel reading for today highlights the story of the widow’s offering. Many of us may be familiar with this story and the messages of stewardship, charitable giving as well as sacrifice to God that can and have been interpreted from it. And while these are great interpretations, today I challenge us to go deeper. Jesus was in the Temple teaching earlier on in this 12th chapter of Mark. When he was finished teaching, he sat down across from the treasury and he watched the crowd as they put money into the treasury. Then Jesus called his disciples and drew their attention to a woman who Mark describes as a poor widow. He called attention to this widow and said to the disciples that she gave more than just two copper coins, she gave all that she had to live on.
What’s even more significant than the poor widow’s sacrifice is what Jesus does. He sits down and he watches. He watches the crowd. He watches the crowd of people as they move about depositing their money into the treasury. Jesus is watching, he’s being observant. He sees something. He notices what the others around him are oblivious to. He sees the shenanigans and opulence of the wealthy, their posturing and pretentiousness, making a show of dropping their large sums of money into the treasury. He sees their arrogance, exclusion and insensitivity to the poor. Conversely, he sees this woman, an impoverished widow, a woman living on the margins of society solely dependent on the grace God to take care of her. Could she be a victim of the injustice Jesus had just described when he denounced those scribes that devour widow’s houses, forced out of her home with nowhere to go? She makes her way forward and Jesus watches as she quietly drops her two coins into the treasury. Jesus doesn’t just see the obvious; he sees things from a different perspective, at a deeper level. Jesus sees people beyond the labels of rich or poor, of race, gender, sexuality, and other manmade limitations. Jesus also sees the inequalities, the injustices, the hypocrisy and the hurtful actions that cause pain and division. Then Jesus calls attention to all that he is witnessing. He calls his disciples to open their eyes and see it all for themselves.
My friends, Jesus is calling us to see what is going on around us, to pay attention to all that is happening in our communities. To be aware of our actions or inactions and how they affect others. Jesus is calling us to see and love our neighbors. Our neighbors are more than just the persons who live next door to us. They are more than our families and friends. Our neighbors are our classmates, professors, co-workers, the persons sitting in the pew next to us on Sundays; and even the displaced and the destitute. Our neighbors are racially, culturally, economically and socially diverse. When we love our neighbors we are in fact loving the beauty, the richness and the diversity that God created. When we love our neighbors we love and value all that they are and we are able to see the image of the divine, the image of the one who created us.
Like the disciples, Jesus is calling us to look deeper, look beyond the surface, beyond the obvious, beyond the material and see the inequalities, see beyond our own prejudices and instead see the best in humanity. Jesus is calling us to a heightened sense of awareness. Jesus is calling us to be aware that our words and actions have the power to hurt, divide and destroy. But our words and actions also have the power to give life, to heal and to restore.
When Jesus pointed out the widow to his disciples, he told them that she had put in more than all those who were contributing to the treasury. But Jesus was not focusing on the monetary amount of her contribution. The widow emptied her livelihood but more than that she emptied herself. When you empty something in essence you are making space. When we empty ourselves of the non-essential things in life we make space for God to move in our lives. We also make space to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When we empty ourselves we make space to widen our circles of fellowship welcoming and loving the other. As we read in First Corinthians 13:4-7, it says that Love is patient and kind, love endures all things and hopes all things. But we must remember that love is not self-centered, rude or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong doing but it does rejoice in the truth.
And the truth my friends is that Jesus is asking is us to empty ourselves, just like the widow at the treasury. We are called to empty ourselves to make space for love and to love. A few weeks our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke up the hill at YDS during Convocation. He said, “The way of Jesus is the way of the cross and the way of the cross is love, and the way of love is the way of life.” Love has the power to stamp out all evil, division, malice, prejudice and hate. Let us empty ourselves so that we may be full of love, able to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds and with all our strength. And let us love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. Amen.