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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


Because There Are Widows

March 31, 2015

On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus goes back to the Temple he just called a den of robbers. He answers challenges from Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians trying to discredit him, but Christ's answers betray how far the religious leaders have strayed from the gracious purposes of God.

After these interactions, he warns his disciples about religious leaders who "devour widows' houses" (Mark 12:40).

The religious leaders are exploiting the people they are supposed to be protecting. They have stopped caring about the people; their love is now for the privilege and power the institution provides.

Jesus, already frustrated, sits across from the treasury and witnesses a rich man depositing his gift. The Greek word plousios, translated as rich, means with a full supply. The rich were those who could give and still have something left. The rich man was someone like me.

Jesus sees a person like me put money into the offering box, and then he sees a poor widow. The word is penichron, which means poor and needy but not totally destitute. The poor widow gives her last two cents. The next time she is mentioned she is no longer penichron but ptochos: destitute, with nothing.

Didn't Jesus just warn his disciples about religious leaders who devour widows' houses?

Jesus isn't telling his followers to give their last two cents to a den of robbers. The poor widow isn't an example of sacrificial giving. She's a victim of a corrupt institution. I know we pastors like to spin it that way around stewardship time, but we can't ask you to give everything you have to the church. You shouldn't walk away with nothing. Giving your life as a living sacrifice to God as Paul suggests is very different from giving everything you have to a church. Too many injustices occur when people, including religious leaders, confuse the church with God.

Tuesday is a long day for Jesus, witnessing the den of robbers in his Father's House. By the end of the day, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple.

The cross is coming in a few days. The cross is not cheap. Grace is free, but it isn't cheap. Why does Jesus humble himself and become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, while also calling for the destruction of the Temple?

Because there are widows: spiritual widows, lonely widows, poor widows, angry widows. There are widows young and old, male and female, black and white, rich and poor. There are widows desperately putting in their last two cents: their last two cents of energy, their last two cents of hope, their last two cents of faith, their last two cents of love.

Jesus dies because there are widows, like you and me, who sometimes have enough and sometimes have nothing left. Christ dies on the cross so our last two cents isn't the last of us. He dies so that nothing can separate us from the love of God: not our poverty, not our riches, not our injustices, not our pain, not our sin, not our failures, not our last two of anything.

It's Tuesday of Holy Week. How can we live, what can we do, because there are widows? Who is giving their last? Who needs to know they are not last in the Kingdom of God, but first?

 


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