‘robbing widows of their homes…’
November 11, 2018
Scripture: Mark 12:38-44
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
I long thought that this story of the ‘Widow’s Mite’ was about giving…and in particular giving when you didn’t have much to give, about being willing to give even unto portions of that which was your own sufficient quantity of need, trusting that the Lord would continue to provide for you if you were willing to extend yourself in such a way.
But a certain phrase caught my eye this time as I read it. A phrase which I had not seen before, and that was when Jesus accused the Temple rulers of ‘devouring widow’s houses…’. And upon closer inspection and study I realized Jesus may have been focusing on something entirely different than just the amount being offered by various individuals into the Temple Treasury collection box. I realized instead that he was speaking directly to the practice of taking advantage of those susceptible to fear or innuendo…those who felt compelled to act in a certain way because they were fearful of the consequences of not doing so.
And the scripture reminded me of a story I heard on NBC news in the last few days of retired folks in certain gated communities down south who actually had become truly convinced over the last two weeks that a caravan of diseased, marauders was fast approaching our southern border with Mexico. Bandits and thieves who would bring small pox, rape, and pillage to their doors who could only be stopped by a vote for a Republican candidate…truly a demonstrably false and dangerously misleading narrative that was of course abandoned by the Republican Party immediately after the mid-term elections were over.
And in reflecting on that bizarre behavior I was also reminded of a man I once knew. I’m talking about a man who I thought I knew very well, a man who went down to NYC in the early 1960’s to march in rallies for civil rights and listened intently to the speeches and sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose work throughout his 30 years in the ministry focused almost exclusively on love. And it was this same man, who after he became ill and decided to live in an assisted living community took on a new diet of a certain popular cable information outlet. A steady, daily intake of information that led him to become fearful, worrying that the federal government was now plotting to destroy or take away those things most important to him.
I’m talking about a man whom I truly no longer recognized anymore. I still loved him dearly and I continued to share bits and pieces of my beliefs and to find occasional touchpoints of agreement…but for the most part he just sat in fearful silence, not really communicating at all so fearful had he become. And I mourned the very real loss of the man I knew and loved as my dad several years before he passed away. He had been robbed of joy and hope by false narratives based upon fear and imaginary threats.
And he stood in such stark contrast to the woman he had married…one who had every reason to fear, as one so dependent on others for her very life and breath as a quadriplegic. She, if anyone would have had no recourse whatsoever if any of the false stories out there were even the least bit true. She was one who would have had to be literally carried to safety should any sort of danger ever really approach and yet, instead of fear, she chose to trust in those around her, she chose to seek joy and hope rather than anxiety. My mom chose to dwell in loving relationships with her family and with any who were fortunate to enter into the circle of grace and love with which she surrounded herself.
Many are those who think little of taking advantage of others through fear or manipulation…many are those who begin or perpetuate false and misleading stories, either for the ability of those stories to reinforce or confirm their own understandings or because they live within a very limited sphere of available information and do not know any different.
And unfortunately, this behavior can be found throughout the whole of social discourse and behavior. Of late, as I indicated at the start, we have seen many stark examples in politics. It seems as though not a day goes by that we don’t hear of at least one questionable account or one aberrant response, oftentimes tragic to the latest line of false and horribly misleading rhetoric.
But the actual behavior Jesus was so upset with and trying to call into understanding that day was the way those in positions of power and authority within the faith were taking advantage of the less fortunate through these same tactics of fear and manipulation…in the case of the poor widow, a manipulation of the faith understanding itself and a corruption of the truth regarding the nature of our God of love such that people were forced to give to the Temple, sometimes way beyond their means, just to alleviate somewhat their fears of being found unacceptable in God’s sight…something I can assure you is close to, if not impossible.
The widow gave what little she had, probably dipping deeply into the funds if you can even call it that, which were needed just to feed herself, all so that she might escape the wrath of the God whom the Temple Authorities threatened would surely come after and find her should she decide to hold back even in the slightest her contribution to the funds of the Temple.
But in addition to or perhaps more than that, Jesus was being critical of the other side of the coin as well…critical of those who were of the elite or upper class who in fact did have the means to give lavishly to the Temple Treasury and who in doing so often made a big show and pretense of their giving…flaunting their wealth as they in effect partnered with the corruption in the Temple administration.
Of these who in fact did have funds way beyond their needs Jesus was just a critical. For the Authorities had the ability to rightly interpret the scriptures to share the truth of God and should have known better. However, the wealthy and showy could have more lovingly put their excess funds to better use by relieving directly some of the hardship of the poor among them such as that suffered by the poor widow.
And unfortunately, many of these same false prophets, similar to those in Jesus’ day are still with us, dominating the airwaves of Sunday morning televangelism, making themselves rich at the very real expense of the fearful who have been snared within their webs of lies and deceit. Now, not all who preach on the television are this way…but any who get rich by ‘robbing widows, the elderly, or the less fortunate of their homes’ through fear and the telling of a false understanding of God most surely are.
So…I lost my dad long before he died…but my mom’s example of grace and love under fire still survives long after she took that final journey home. And I love them both for the examples they showed me and the examples they lived…even the stark contrast my dad assumed before he died. For in that I was able to see just how important it is to look for, to find, and to come to know in truth the incredible love offered to each one of us by our God. For that is the love we are called both to be, and to share with one another…that is the love that casts out all fear…that is the love that has no room for manipulation and which recognizes and resists false narratives wherever they may be found.
As the writer of the book of James tells us, ‘Draw near to God…and God will draw near to you’. That is the most sure way to know the truth in what you hear, and to discern that which is false and misleading. If you pray diligently and seek the truth of God’s love in all you do and say…if you seek truly to love one another as you love yourself, then you will find that you are centered in the truth of God. And that truth will keep you safe…it will direct your thoughts as well as make you a port in the storm for all those about you who are tossed about in the endless waves of false or misleading information. If you remain centered in the truth of God you will never again rob a widow or anyone else of their home, for the greater and overriding consciousness of the consequences of your life and all that makes it up will guide you and keep you safely in God’s good grace.
Seek the truth, resist false and fearsome narratives, seek the Lord wherever the Lord may be found and journey forward…
…for every truth needs one to tell it…
…and the truth of God’s love that casts out fear…
…needs one most of all…