The scripture readings for this Sunday, November 11, were Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 and Mark 12:36-44. Rev. Laura Mayo have the proclamation. The text has also been included below.
I finished proofing the final copy of my article for the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, but on Thursday morning I learned that to twelve more people were gunned down, I wanted to edit what I had written to include them. Because I used the word slaughtered to describe what happened to the eleven Jews in their temple and the word murdered to describe another gunman’s attack on two African-American grandparents, I needed a different verb and thus my use of the thesaurus. I looked up alternative words for slaughter this week: I was out of words.
I feel like I am all out of words. There are not enough thesauruses in the world for what is happening in our country. And I cannot be silent. You cannot be silent. We must find the words, find the actions, find the courage to demand that gun violence in our country stop. We must demand that it stop with our voices as we call and write our elected officials and even if we feel like it’s not doing any good we say that we will not tolerate assault rifles in the hands of civilians; that we will not tolerate the lack of background checks and waiting periods; that we are not willing to live with mass shootings as the status quo.
This is a public health crisis. We must demand over and over and over that we pass universal background checks. Demand that we close the private sale loophole. Demand that we reinstate the ban on the purchase and sale of assault weapons.
12,504 people were shot at killed by a gun so far this year. 24,284 were injured. 3,002 of those slaughtered were under 18 years of age (including two 15 year old Lamar High School students who were killed with a gun this week). The overwhelming majority of these lives would have been saved with effective gun control. We know that this is so, because, in societies that have effective gun control, people rarely, rarely, rarely die of gunshots. The states with strong gun laws have fewer gun murders (and suicides and accidental killings) than states with lax laws.
We cannot listen to those who, as the death toll mounts, say that this is an impossibly hard, or even particularly complex, problem. We cannot listen to pronouncements that more guns will make us safer. We cannot let NRA money write the narrative. We must open our eyes. This is just what Jesus asks of us in today’s lection: that we see, that we refuse the status quo, that we topple the oppression of the domination systems.
“Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then 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. 44For 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” (Mark 12:41-44).
I typically write proclamations on Thursday. This means that after my trip to the thesaurus for another word for slaughter, I turned my attention to our sacred stories for this week. As I reread Mark, several things began to take on a different light. I have exclusively heard this passage as a way to induce guilt such that congregants will give more to stewardship or capital campaigns. I have heard this woman’s story reduced to a moral time and time again - she gave all she had, surely you can give a little more . . . But such exploitation is not why Jesus invites us to see her.
I wish I knew her name. Instead of her name, we are given her status: to be a widow in first century Palestine was to be a woman living on the margins of society. She had no safety net: no husband to advocate for her, no pension to draw from, no social status to speak of. She was vulnerable in every single way. Two pennies short of the end. And she gave those away. Are we really meant to applaud a destitute woman who gave her last two cents to the Temple, and then slipped away to starve?
She gave all she had to live on - her whole life. “Why? Asks Biblical scholar Karoline Lewis, “Out of obligation? Respect? Demand? Expectation? Religiosity? Piety? All of the above? She gave her whole life because there were no other options. She gave her whole life because that’s what was expected of her. She gave her whole life because her life depended on it. Caught in a system of quid pro quo, trapped in expectations that demanded more from her than she could practically give, knowing that her future depended on her present, she had to do what she did. She acted out of assumptions and assertions and assessments that located her, managed her, and determined her life. There was no other recourse than to give her whole life.” To be clear, very clear: this is not an indictment against Judaism. Set this story in any cathedral, in any institution that should care for the poor but instead devours them.
As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the religious leaders, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).
The religious leaders devour the widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers while the widow, after her offering, is left with only her prayers to devour; she has no money for food.
And Jesus asks us to see it - Jesus doesn’t say we should offer her our thoughts and prayers - he says the religious leaders offering long prayers while participating in oppression and injustice will be condemned.
This passage is located on the Tuesday of the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus has been offering one scathing critique after another of the economic and political exploitation he witnessed all around him. On Sunday Jesus made a mockery of Roman pomp and circumstance with his protest march through Jerusalem. On Monday he took a whip into the house of worship and turned over the tables of the money changers bringing the business of the temple to a halt; He shouts: God’s house is to be a house of prayer but you have made it a safehouse for your oppression and injustice and this will not stand. Jesus seeks to end the collaboration between the religious leaders and Roman imperial control. Jesus points out the religious leaders’ hypocrisy again and again: our hypocrisy - we cannot make this about them and not us. Long prayers offered for show while widows’ houses are devoured.
And here is a widow now. Look at her. See her. Jesus invites the disciples - invites us to open ourselves to this widow. Jesus demands we watch her give her life away. She is not a stewardship sermon. Jesus never commends the widow; he doesn’t applaud her self-sacrifice; he never suggests we should follow in her footsteps.
Jesus asks us to see her: When I say you devour widows’ houses, this is what I mean. This is what you do. Look at her. Be a witness to her devouring - and worse to her participation in her own devouring. No one makes her give the last of her resources.
This is the story of the televangelist begging for a new jet who takes the last of the elderly couple’s savings and then refuses to help when there’s no money for medicine. This is the swirl of religiosity and NRA money that has Christians believing there is nothing to be done about the public health crisis caused by guns; and worse has them participating in their own devouring as they vote time and again for people who care more about money than human lives.
Lest you think this cannot be what Jesus meant, lest you think all those stewardship sermons were right on, consider Jesus’ next words: As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:1-2).
It is time to take back this sacred story. It is time to take back every narrative that preserves the status quo rather than justice. We must, as Jesus did, call out any form of religiosity that manipulates the vulnerable into self-harm and self-destruction. Jesus sees the widow. Jesus' eyes are ever on the least, the insignificant, the hidden. Jesus holds up children, women, the vulnerable time and time again and asks us to see, to welcome, to love, to care.
And here, just before his own death, he asks for more than sight, more than welcome, more than love, more than care -- he asks us to see the damage of the domination systems, to know that they cannot continue to stand - “not one stone will be left here upon another” - and calls us to work for change; to upend the status quo; to build the kingdom not of money, not of collaboration with the oppressors . . . No, we are called to build the realm of God.
The widow allows the last scraps of her security to fall out of her palm. She is not an object lesson. She is a prophet: her life and her coming death speak a holy denouncement of injustice and corruption. Without speaking a word, she proclaims God's Word in the ancient tradition of Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Amos - words like: "The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders: It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?' declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty" (Isaiah 3:14-15).
Are we willing to see those being devoured by our domination systems? Are we willing to call bluff on the common narrative?
Can we see the widow? Can we see the thousands slaughtered by guns? Can we work and work and speak and march and demand change? The widow doesn’t need our thoughts and prayers she needs the system to change.
- Rev. Laura Mayo