“A Powerful Pittance”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
up on step stool wearing a collection of stoles. “Can everyone see me?”
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
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
And sadly, we see it in far too many
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
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
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
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
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.”
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.
stands in stark contrast to the scribes that prey upon widows and consume their
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
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?
Or everything that we have? Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072