November 7, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 or 1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 127 or Psalm 146
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
1 Kings 17:10-16
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 (1b)
Mark 12:(38-40) 41-44
Many church communities are in the midst of conducting stewardship campaigns at this time of year. As pastors and other leaders make their pitch, it may feel tempting to cite the example of the poor widow in today’s Gospel reading as a model of giving to God—and by extension, of course, to the church. Yet a careful reading of the Gospel text might suggest exercising caution before making this application too quickly.
The story of the widow’s donation of two small copper coins is wonderfully rich, holding together interlocking elements of Jesus’ message. It’s worth recalling that the Gospel of Mark was written after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. Those who first heard this story recognized immediately that the generosity of the widow and of the wealthier donors was directed to an institution destined for destruction, just as Jesus himself predicts a little later in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 13:1-2).
On the one hand, he holds up the widow as a model of discipleship. Just as Jesus will soon give his all—his very life—for the sake of others, so are his followers called to give everything in the service of God’s reign. Unlike the wealthy donors who gave from their abundance, the widow “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (12:44). Charitable giving and tithing are good and commendable practices, but Jesus calls for a discipleship that holds nothing back.
On the other hand, Mark places the widow’s life situation in direct contrast to the religious leaders whom Jesus criticizes in the verses immediately preceding this story. Jesus lashes out at the scribes, representatives of the religious establishment, who not only took pleasure in being treated with honor but were at the same time known to “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers” (12:30). While praising the widow’s willingness to give all that she has, Jesus is also pointing out the way in which she and others living on the margins of society were being exploited by those who loved making public displays of their religiosity. There is an inherent danger in pointing to the poor as examples of giving when they are often oppressed by a system that benefits those with greater wealth.
Yes, giving is a central theme in today’s Gospel reading, but it would be a stretch to apply Jesus’ teaching here to institutional support without looking at its deeper message. As he nears the end of his public ministry, Jesus repeats his radical call to offer all that we have in service of God’s reign and sharpens his criticism of institutions, leaders, and systems that oppress the poor for the gain of the powerful and wealthy.
What if our stewardship messages extended the call to give not simply as a way for the church to make its budget goals, but primarily as a step toward the total self-giving which Jesus both modeled and taught? Can our campaigns challenge our communities to be good stewards in society, to play a role in dismantling systems that exploit and disadvantage the poor for the benefit of the rich?
A Hymn for Today: “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending”
Robert L. Edwards submitted this hymn in 1961 during The Hymn Society’s call for texts on the theme of stewardship. It was included later that year in the collection Ten New Stewardship Hymns. Edwards takes a broad view of stewardship, beginning with God’s abundant gifts to the world and the self-emptying love of Jesus, and responding with the gift of self in service of God’s reign.
God, whose giving knows no ending,
From your rich and endless store:
Nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
Costly cross, grave’s shattered door,
Gifted by you, we turn to you,
Off’ring up ourselves in praise;
Thankful song shall rise forever,
Gracious donor of our days.
Skills and time are our for pressing
Toward the goals of Christ, your Son:
All at peace in health and freedom,
Races, joined, the Church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
Lest we strive for self alone;
Born with talents, make us servants
Fit to answer at your throne.
Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
Gain through pow’rs your grace conferred;
Ours to use for home and kindred,
And to spread the gospel word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
As we need Christ’s ageless call,
Healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
Serving you by loving all.
Text: Robert L. Edwards, 1915-2006, ©1961, The Hymn Society, admin. by Hope Publishing Company.
Tunes: RUSTINGTON, IN BABILONE, HYFRYDOL, BEACH SPRING
Image Credit: The Widow’s Mite, JESUS MAFA, Cameroon, 1973
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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