This morning we come face to face and have to deal with, two very different stories presented to us from the Gospel of Mark. On the one hand, we have the self-righteous, those who walk around thinking they are better than the rest. On the other hand, we have the widow, giving the last of what she has.
The Scribes were the educated class in society, they were the ones that everyone wanted to be like, and they knew it, so they walked around town like they were better than everyone else. They wore long robes, they demanded the best seats in the church, and when they prayed in public, they prayed long prayers, not to bring glory to God, but to bring glory to themselves.
However, they also neglected the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, and all the rest. It was not their job to care for them and they up with excuses like, they are lazy, they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they are just looking for a handout, they will just buy drugs or alcohol with the money I give them.
Jesus says, “they will receive great condemnation.”
In contrast to the Scribes, we have the widow who comes forward and places two coins in the collection plate. In today’s money this would be about 1/32nd of a penny, and it was all she had, not all she could afford, not all she could afford after her bills were paid, not all she could afford after getting her nails done and he hair taken care of, not all she had after she got her large mocha cream with a double shot of espresso and a squirt of some other nasty thing, at the local drive through. No, those two coins represented all that she had, and she gave it as a testament to her faith.
Jesus was pointing out to his disciples the behavior of those leaders of the church that were requiring more of their followers then they were willing to do themselves. They were standing and preaching, but they were not listening to their own words and following what was to be done. I am sorry to say we continue to have this problem today.
All through history, religious leaders have used Scripture, or their version of Scripture, to justify their behavior and even to justify the conduct of their respective governments. Almost immediately after Christianity became legal by governmental decree, the church started to persecute those that did not believe the way they did. This once persecuted church now became the persecutor.
Holy War, or crusades, were justified based on Scripture because the people the Holy War was against were non-believers. Slavery was justified, at all levels, because Scripture said so and because those enslaved were not humans to start. You see when we demonize and remove the humanity of the individual or group we believe we are free to treat them however we want. If we think they are a threat to our way of life, well we can kill them if we wish to because the rules do not apply.
Jesus says, “they will receive great condemnation.”
I have said this to you before, Jesus was the hardest on the religious leaders of his day because they should know better. Jesus was always on their backs, “brood of vipers,” “hypocrites,” and all of the other choice words Jesus had for them and this is another example of that condemnation. I often wonder what Jesus would think about the religious leaders we have today who makes statements like; “Hurricanes are God’s wrath sent to remove sinners from the face of the earth.” “God will send his judgment upon you if you do not vote for a certain candidate.” These are just a few examples of how today’s religious leaders are willing to justify just about anything as long as their version of Scripture is followed. Jesus caused a revolution not because he directly challenged the political establishment, Jesus started a coup because he questioned the religious establishment and they killed him for it.
Jesus came to spark a spiritual revolution and to show us a new way to live our lives. No longer were we slaves to the law but he gave us a new law, “love God, Love neighbor.” It really is that simple to follow. If we truly love God with our whole mind, our whole heart, and our whole body, then we have no other choice but to love our neighbor and to care for them. However, our neighbor is not just the person that lives next door to us, and our neighbor is not only the person who looks like us, but our neighbor is also all of humanity because each person has been given that divine spark at their creation. Each of us has been created in the image and likeness of a God who loves us the way we are, unconditionally.
The problem Jesus had with the Scribes was not their position, and their place was an important one in society, the problem Jesus had with the Scribes is that they were hypocrites and he called them out on it every chance he had. The Scribes had failed in their task to lead the people to spiritual renewal and instead made it about themselves and about what they wanted. Rather than doing the hard work of loving everyone the set up false interpretation of rules to exclude certain people and created a system that no one could live up to, to gain the kingdom God. Jesus came along and flipped that all over. Jesus took away and replaced it with “Love God. Love Neighbor.”
So where does that leave us?
We have to ask ourselves the question, are we the Scribe or are we the widow? Are we going to exclude based on a version of scripture that fits our narrative or are we going to include based on the call of Jesus to love God and love neighbor. It really is that simple. Ask yourself the question, does my belief about an issue express my love of God and my love of neighbor or is it something different? God loves me and accepts me without condition, am I doing the same in return to God and to others? Are we, as a church community, witnessing to that unconditional love of God and love of neighbor in our practices and policies? Are we like the Scribes, do we expect better things just because we are Christians? Do we wish to force others to believe and act the same way we do or do we accept them for who they are, beloved children of God?
Today we commemorate the end of World War 1, a war that started, as most wars do because one group felt they were better than another group. They believed that their way of life was better than their neighbor’s way of life and resorted to violence to make others live and act the way they do. We have to be ever vigilant to ensure that we do not do the same thing and it all begins with our vision of the other person and whether we live by the command of Jesus to love God and love neighbor.