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Berkeley / Los Angeles / Ireland

One Woman's Worth

by Ward Stothers

 Jesus pointed out one woman’s true worth.  It is commonly called the widow’s mite.  Based on Mark 12, listen to this story.

         His end—was near.  This was one of Christ’s last teaching days, last public discourses to a distracted, defiant Israel, his concluding day at the Temple, a final sparring on teachings and parables with lip-sore  Pharisees and the Sanhedrin’s  Governing 70, a tearful last  beckon to Israel, searching for that corporate  prodigal of a nation devoid of a national repentance, the last year of Jesus’ life— a momentous last supper, a final destined walk to the Cross.  And all for— breath and liberty, reflecting the love within the Trinity, renewed life for his people, a nature made fresh, and the pervasive gifted incense of meaning and value restored  within— and worn without his creation. 

Jesus finished wearying through the contentious trappings and questions over both— taxes to Caesar and honor to God, the experience of Heaven without marriage, and the language of how Jesus was David’s Son; he retired from the public terrace of the Temple, up to the nearby Court of the Women— and flopped down.

His head was ringing with the fractured analysis of the teachers of the law, and he warned his disciples about them like a shepherd with directing staff, to beware of their richly garbed outsides, while inwardly they crafted deceit, securing the seats of honor at wedding banquets and gesturing authority in their flowing robes.  He accused some of writing abusive wills for helpless, bereaving widows, talking justice, while loading the widows’ waiting palms with the senseless destitution of no home to live in, causing them to wage war on themselves, in a fit of emotional despair accompanied by directionless poverty.  The Scribes, like lawyers, were employed everywhere in making wills, and conveyance of property.

The formal, daily Temple sacrifices were over for the day.  From where Jesus sat, he eyed like an eagle the panorama of late tending worshippers offering their private devotions and paying for their vows and Temple dues.  He saw it odd that those endeared to Him as his prayerful people were looking up for God somewhere, when he was decidedly present and sitting down.  He always enjoyed the side by side walk with his faithful, just like he planned his Holy Spirit to be, indwelt and about but not possessing them; his presence overwhelmed space but never was he— the creation itself.  This whole Greek thing was making him dizzy.
Women had no function in this Court bearing their name; they were title rich but more like decorative motifs, worthless by gender in any prayerful public expression to their God.  The title held two negative insinuations that the Court was open to all the normally objectionable outsiders and that women could not pass further into the Temple from this place.  In essence, women aged as the unique class of objectionable insiders.

  Deposit booths for the treasury were located here against the wall of the Court like supermarket ATM’s, for charitable as well as mandated giving.  Thirteen boxes long necked and labeled at the top, and collection wide like big mouth trumpets at the bottom,  sat  waiting for the daily rain of money drop.  The Court could hold 15,000 at one standing and the august charity, one year reached half a million silver and two million in precious vessels.  This generosity of Israel prompted a law to be enacted preventing giving over a certain percentage of one’s possessions.

The din of echoing entreats with rising incense, and coins slapping the sides of the trumpets in a slalom from giver down to gift, was interrupted by the piercing silence of an urgent widow.  She stole alone and uneasy towards the mouth of the trumpet slots embarrassed by her offering but encouraged by her God.  Psalm like voices were flooding her ears like lyrical wings, weaving in song, “If you wanna kiss the sky you better learn how to kneel.”  One could imagine Yahweh elbowing his resting Son saying, Watch this one, she really knows how to paint our Glory.

Without any ostentation and on tiptoes, she dropped two copper pennies, one at a time, into the mouth of the depository.  All she had to live on was one, but two coins were required by law, if an offering was to be acceptable.  Poor was her name; although she remained nameless, Jesus raises her with blessing by calling over his disciples to witness the contributing riches of a wealthy soul.  He does not confront her in talking to her, lest he embarrass her in her beeline for righteousness. 

The lesson and practicality of this story is to remind us of why we are living here in the presence of this painful world.  Firstthe bent has been made straight. I know you are now creating in your minds an image of hundreds of feet of fence post, skewed, weaving and breaking apart by the constant harassment of our regional earthquakes.  The bent I am rather referring to is the continuous spewing of sin like the sea wash on an offended shoreline and its resulting consequence of brokeness, suffering and death in this world.

Remember Jesus, at probably Peter’s house in Capernaum years before. There is a paralyzed man let down by rope into the midst of a crowded house.  Christ announces that the man’s sins are forgiven because of their faith, and others resist the blessing saying only God, and not a man, can forgive sins.

Jesus then grabs their souls, shaking “which is it easier to say, your sins are forgiven or arise, take up your bed and walk?  To forgive sins is an intangible, untouchable, unseeable reality. It’s just words— but to tangibly prove he was God carrying the real power to forgive real sins, he chooses the impossible thing to do before their eyes in the hope of engendering trusting lips and life, in the hearts of those watching— and waiting.  The paralytic is loosed, set free from his paralysis before an overflowing audience, leaps to his once frozen and unusable feet, and in a jailbreak, sprints home praising God, to make a sandwich for himself for the first time.  The words of Jesus are actions.

Jesus forgives sins!   The bent, or sin in our life, has been paid for— whether you see sin, or feel it— or not, whether you are a celebrant of life or have been squeeze-dried by it;  The reconciliation of God with humanity has happened in Jesus Christ and holds a date in earth time, bedrock history.  Only the curtain call of his Second Coming remains with the future rolling out of the landscape of righteousness and the future drop- kick of sin when— we will accumulate everything in Him, consumers from nowhere and his people everywhere. 

And the second point, why has God left us here, if the sin has been paid for by Christ?   What function can the select people of God serve in this world of stain and squalor?    My son, Jerem as a child, phrased it acutely delicate and poignant at 8 years old—“If God loves me, why is he invisible?” 

The Widow owned openly and publicly what we are to do in this broken world ‘til death— or side by side with Christ at his return—under the duress of sin, we are to wage peace on evil now and everywhere, showing our faithfulness in the midst of fracture, and knowing we carry and bear sin in our lives, going through this life together, eating the sourdough of forgiveness dipped in the oils of mercy, and thereby, recommending God to all its wounded and hurting, to those without and to us within ‘til Life do we meet, face to face and foot to foot in redeemed bodies with Jesus Christ—God Almighty. 

The widow is our witness, our clear, refinishing reformer showing us how to govern our money with God in it.  She put a farthing down on the tenth trumpet in the only race she has ever entered, not as a gamble in the Jerusalem lottery, or security from a still born reality, but as a free will offering to a giving God, a God who loves her and sees all things while seated on his accessible throne.  She wears her faith through fracture like falling rock in pools of grace.  She didn’t complain but gave up the immediate taste of her daily bread.  Jesus accentuated that “she gave out of her poverty and put in— all the living that she had.” (the literal Greek).  Tears escape her and starving for more-God, she plays the prominence of this God—in worship, on her biggest billboard—herself.  She honors God with what she has been given.

Christ reminds us that she broke the law by giving him more, percentage wise, than she had to live on.  She never looked back in fear of criticism or the concern of others, or up to beat her chest with pride and pomp, nor down wringing her hands with the despairing sweat of an emptiness nearing its failure,  for she saw God clearly and fully— “I will not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”— for her glass lived not half-full nor even half empty, but filled to overflow as she knew her heart was in the hand of Yahweh who directed it like a watercourse wherever he pleased, “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”.  And we, hearing the pleasure drop off Jesus’ lips about her robust faith, should yearn to out-do her charity, for she has been our sainted example of generosity to God.  “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul”. 

A short forty years later, the temple’s beautiful stones measuring almost 24 feet in length streaked with variegated marble and all boisterous gesturing of offerings gifts to God, was halted by the Roman Empire in its siege, and destruction of Jerusalem.  The Jewish rebellion was squashed; the Diaspora began.  Christ foretold it to his disciples as he left the Temple that day saying not one stone would be left on another.  The stones of the North and East walls where the treasury and trumpet boxes sat, were pried apart by the Roman soldiers to get at the flowing gold and silver filling the mortar cracks in the ensuing fire from the assault.

Her story, fitting neatly into our canon of belief, outlives second Temple Judaism.  Her faith-full giving made her well and wholesome, and Christ blessed her with recognition; the great cloud of witnesses is almost absent without her.  In the final chapter of the book of Hebrews, it recommends “Through Jesus therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise— the fruit of lips that confess His name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”.  We have a universe of “trumpets” to address and our rich, scurrying lives to offer and— on our knees please!-


Copyright © 2005 Ward Stothers