The Message, Sunday, November 7, 2021, "A Powerful Pittance"

The Message, Sunday, November 7, 2021, "A Powerful Pittance"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
November 09, 2021

“A Powerful Pittance”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Mark 12:38-44

Open: Climb up on step stool wearing a collection of stoles. “Can everyone see me?”
Begin to offer a long, flowery prayer …

            It is kind of fun as an opening bit, but it is pretty far from my comfort zone. And my guess is that you would not be a fan of that sort of presentation.

            Of course, it is not too far off from much of what we see in the world today. There is a pretty strong strain of “Look at me-ism” and “Me first-ism” running through our society today. We may even experience some of it during this worship service!

            People with loud exhausts or stereo systems in their vehicles scream, “Look at me!”
            We see it when we watch a baseball game and all of the people sitting in the thousand-dollar seats right behind home plate.
            We see it in the “I am the center of the universe” attitudes that we discussed in last week’s message. They are those who insist upon getting their way at the expense of anyone and everyone around them.

            And sadly, we see it in far too many churches.

            The scene that we witnessed in this morning’s scripture passage is the final teaching moment in Jesus’ public ministry. This was his last lecture, his parting words. Throughout his teaching and preaching ministry he had emphasized the importance of humility and service. And in this final lesson, he used the very familiar and effective technique of compare and contrast.

            Jesus was in the Temple courts, engaged in a sparring match with a gathering of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. He had just delighted the crowd with a riddle about the Messiah, and then he offered that warning against the scribes.

            “Beware of them! Look at them! Go ahead … look! They want to be seen. They want to be looked at … noticed! They wear those long, flowing robes that drag along the ground. They wear their long, prominent tassels on their stoles. Go ahead … look at them!”

            Of course, by that point, the scribes were likely squirming a bit. Warnings are not typically complimentary in nature.

            You may recall that Jesus had just had a very positive encounter with a scribe. He did compliment him for his wisdom and proclaimed that he was not far from the Kingdom of God. So, this criticism this warning, was not against all scribes. But it was against those that abused their positions and their authority.

            Rather than practice humility, they sought the best seats at the synagogue and at the banquets. They wanted to be up front wear everyone could see them.

            Many of the scribes were described as “leeches.”

            Scribes were not actually clergy, but many of them acted as if they were. They loved to be greeted as “rabbi” in the marketplace. The title “rabbi” literally means “my great one.”

            Scribes were not compensated for their work at the Temple or synagogue. It was expected that they would have a separate occupation that would take care of their living expenses and needs.

            The long robes implied lives of leisure. No one could actually move quickly or work while wearing long robes that drag across the ground.  (I trip on my own robe from time to time just going up the stairs!)

            Some of them took advantage of widows, or other vulnerable people in the community living lavishly in their homes. They would convince people that supporting them and providing for them was a high calling and would earn them a special place at the heavenly banquet.

            We can easily see modern day comparisons with the charlatan evangelists that implore their congregations to give, and give, and give even more while they live in multiple mansions and fly around in private jets. We can see it in corporate executives that make more salary in one day than their rank-and-file employees will earn in a year. We see it in anyone that uses their positions or authority to take advantage of others.

            The leeches are just as distasteful now as they were then.

            Jesus is saying, “Beware. Remember what I taught you. Those who desire to be first must be willing to be last. Those who wish to be great must be willing to serve, to be the slave of all. Do not practice your piety in the marketplace for all to see. Practice it in private where God will certainly see.”

            “If you wish to be my disciple, do not behave as they behave.”

            And then he sat outside the Gate Beautiful, across from the thirteen “trumpets.” They were the trumpet shaped containers into which the faithful placed their offerings to support the Temple.

            He watched the people placing their offerings into the “trumpets.” He watched many large gifts being presented. And then the widow made her way and dropped two tiny, copper coins into the coffer; two little coins worth a fraction of a penny.

            Jesus seized that opportunity to offer his final lesson. He called the disciples aside and pointed out the widow’s gift. He said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

            The widow gave everything that she had, she withheld nothing. She took nothing for herself, did not even keep the money that she needed to live on that day.

            She stands in stark contrast to the scribes that prey upon widows and consume their property.

            She stands in dramatic contrast to those who are supposed to CARE for the widow, and the orphan, and the vulnerable in their community.

            She stands in contrast to the rich young man that Jesus had encountered not that long ago. The young man that asked Jesus what he must do in order to inherit eternal life.  Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give to the poor, and then he could return and follow him. The rich young man went away sad because he could not even consider doing what Jesus had asked of him.

            The widow did not question, she did not try to bargain, she simply gave all that she had.

            Jesus had just answered the question: “What is the most important commandment?” And he answered: “The Lord our God is One. Love the Lord our God with ALL your heart, soul, strength and mine. And a second is like it, love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

            Where the corrupt scribes had failed, the poor widow did not.

            Where the wealthy who gave a portion from their surplus failed, the widow did not.

            She gave everything she had to the Kingdom of God.

            It is a strange and beautiful thing that across the generations, the person who has become the personification of sacrificial giving gave less than a penny.

            Jesus could not have been more clear in his final lesson. Those who wish to be his disciples must not practice false piety or use their influence and position in abusive or corrupt ways.

            And they must engage in sacrificial giving. Those who follow, those who serve, do not withhold anything from God.

            We are called to be disciples. What are we willing to give?

            A pittance?

            Or everything that we have? Amen.


Congregational Church