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I have lots of really dumb ideas, but none as dumb as unloading the contents of a 48 foot semi truck into our church building without the aid of a forklift and pallet jack. I am glad my initial plans for the Church of Christ disaster relief supplies were thwarted. Otherwise we would have been in a heap of trouble. 32,000 pounds! That’s what we would have lifted, box by box, pallet by pallet, up and down, down and up. There was so much stuff. The overall value of the goods shipped our way was over $99,000. I made sure I took lots of pictures while standing in front of the impressive piles of benevolent aid.
It was amazing how popular I became this past week. My phone and email have never been so busy. There were many people attempting to do good, and we had the supplies they needed for their various missions. It felt great to be able to help out. It didn’t matter who called–the American Legion, the Boy Scouts, the Presbyterian church, the Fire Department, local people doing their part–they all got to take from our abundance. We took pictures with all of them. There were times this week I felt like a real hero. Jesse and the West Islip Church of Christ to the rescue. ‘Church of Christ’ was written right there on the relief boxes! I’ll put it on the blog! Should we call the paper? Did someone say News 12 had interest in the story?
There were other amazing things that happened. A few high dollar checks rolled in, a suburban pulled up full of contractor bags unloaded its contents for us free of charge. A box full of flashlights and batteries from northern Maine, where Shannon and I grew up, arrived, courtesy of my sister and the good folks at the Fiddle Head Focus News Paper where she works.
People are in the giving mood. Which is probably why it was the biggest take ever at the food collection at the 109 Stop & Shop. We had such an abundance of food come in yesterday my van barely made it back to the church building. I had Paula Link follow me. It took the good folks at the food collection so much time to load my van with the gathered items that my van’s battery died right there in the Stop & Shop parking lot. I bet there was close to $2000 dollars worth of food, and that may be a really low estimate. It was so abundant that Paula had to go recruit a few teens playing football in our church yard to help carry it in and sort it–otherwise the small crew we had doing the work, while many of the rest of us helped the scouts deliver the disaster relief supplies, would have been there all night.
With all of this good going on, it was easy to overlook the small cardboard box. The letter inside was dated November 1st, 2012. It was delivered to our church this past week. For two days it sat unopened. I had so many other boxes to deal with–big boxes, heavy boxes, boxes in the church hallways, and weighing down backs of vehicles, and cluttering warehouses. This box was recycled, fairly light, wrapped amateurishly in clear packing tape with a handmade and hand written address label. The letter was short, the spelling was bit off, the grammar a little suspect. It read, “Dear children in New York, I heard about the hurricane, I went trick or treating and got you some candy for you. I didn’t know if you went trick or treating or not. God bless you. Love Cameron” (8 years old, from California).
In the bottom of the box was a couple zip-lock bags full of assorted Halloween candy. Now you have to understand how many boxes I had–full boxes, bulky boxes, boxes with hundreds of dollars of merchandise. You can see why I might set this one aside. You know why I didn’t bother to take a picture with it.
“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! [And who like to take pictures standing in front of large piles of benevolent aid]. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
“Long robes”–these were the full-length prayer shawls with tassels attached to the four corners.
“Best seats”–these were the seats along the wall that faced the rest of the people gathered who were required to sit in a huddled group on the floor. The Greek here is actually protokathedrais – or the “first seats.”
“Greeted with respect in the market places”–when a scribe walked down the street or passed through a marketplace, everyone (with the exception of the laborers) was expected to rise before them.
“Devouring widows houses”–the scribes, unlike the Sadducees, were not as a rule wealthy. They were largely dependent on gifts of worshipers and benefactors for their livelihood. Just as happens today some persons exploited the esteem in which they were held to abuse the generosity shown them by others. They would take candy from a baby, or from the spoils of a little boy’s night of trick or treating. Or take a house from a helpless widow. It is similar to the way some televised holy men ask for money from sick vulnerable invalids in order that the televised holy men might say a prayer for healing.
The message of Jesus is this: The judgment of God is against those who practice religion for the purpose of self-advancement. The warning is blunt and emphatic–they will be severely punished, or as the NRSV says “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 [so much you would need a forklift to move it]. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny [the contents of small recycled cardboard box]. 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.”
The widow comes on the scene at just the right time to teach a very important lesson in the gospel of Mark.
Jesus watches the offerings that are given–that seems strange to us. Our offerings are done in private. We fold our checks and make sure our bills do no show the number currency as we place them in the baskets. This giving was done more openly. The temple treasury was located in the court of the women, the first enclosure of the sanctuary. Later descriptions of the temple tell us that there were 13 Shofar chests in the temple, each dedicated to a special offering. The attending priest would often examine the currency for genuineness. They would also verify that the amount corresponded to the proper amount for the requested dues or sacrifices. There were new shekel dues, old shekel dues, bird offerings, wood to be bought, frankincense, gold for the mercy seat.
The directions of the priest to the worshipper were all spoken and audible. The offerings, their amounts, the generosities and the frugalities were plain to be seen and heard. You can imagine these exchanges being more like a loud check-out counter at a grocery store than a quite private passing of the basket.
So Jesus takes notice of her gift. She puts in two small coins (leptas in Greek). These were the smallest coins in circulation. The Lepta was 1/64 of a denarius. A denarius, you will remember was equivalent to a day’s wage. And Mark, likely for the benefit of his Roman readers, let’s us know that two leptas equal one quadran, or translated in our Bibles as one “Penny.” In purely financial terms the value of her offering was negligible. But it does give Jesus an occasion to talk about what New Testament Exegete Dr. James Edwards has termed “the divine exchange rate.” Jesus summons the disciples. An important moment in your teaching has arrived.
He begins his teaching with his famous “I tell you the truth…” in the King James, “Verily I say unto you…” And then he explains the “divine exchange rate.” This poor widow has put more into the treasury then all the others, for they gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty put in everything—all she had to live on.
The divine exchange rate—the value of the gift is not the amount given, but the cost to the giver. As a result that which made no difference at all in the economy of the temple, and not worth writing in the books of the temple treasury is immortalized forever in the book of life. In Greek, before any periphrastic translating is done, the pericope ends with the simple phrase in verse 44, “She put in all of her life.”
As we approach the end of Mark’s gospel in lectionary year B we encounter the keystone in Mark’s arch of faith. The widow is a model disciple, who gives all she has. She lays down her whole life in offering, that is what Jesus will do on Golgotha. This widow writes the preface to the passion narrative to follow. And it has to be maddening to the pure practice of this brand of self-sacrifice to witness those who put on the cloak of religiosity for their own advantage.
Cameron, this sermon is going to be on the internet. If you can hear it, I want you to know that my name is Jesse, and I have three kids. Two of them went trick or treating (the third is too old), but we didn’t get much candy. Some people were too flooded out of their homes to worry about passing candy out to trick or treaters in our neighborhood, and there were some places not safe to go. We were lucky though, one of our neighbors who had a generator when all the power was out threw a Halloween party–so we had a good time anyway.
Other children didn’t go trick or treating at all. They spent the night helping mom and dad pick up the debris that littered their yard, or to scrape the sludge of their floors. You were right to think about us. Thanks for using your time to trick or treat not to get candy for yourself but to get candy for others who couldn’t. And Cameron I felt pretty special–sending out truck after truck full of disaster relief supplies from our warehouse at 131 Akron street. I felt important when my phone kept ringing and I was able to say Sure, come get what you need, or when my van was overflowing with food, or when I was accepting big checks. But Cameron I gave out of my great abundance this past week, but you gave out of your love. That’s really special. You keep that up. This morning I took a picture with your Halloween candy, and I am going to send it to you. Because in some ways you gave more than all the others, and when you did, you were a model disciple for the glory of God.