Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Four

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Matthew 18:1-7

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

Oh, man, I do not want to be a stumbling block. Ever. Yet, most assuredly, I have been exactly that at points in my life. I look back on my own days of mothering little ones and far too often, I cringe. I am sure I got in the way of my own kids, far too often.

Lord,  have mercy.

And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve asked for ‘eyes to see’ who the little ones around me truly are. That includes the little ones inside me, too. I do believe that one of the most essential parts of ‘growing up’ is acknowledging that we are perpetually little. And that being little is okay. In fact, as we acknowledge our own littleness, as we learn to bring those younger versions of ourselves out into the light of God’s love, healing happens. Deep healing. The kind of healing that changes us from the inside out. The kind of healing that might even change the world, if we let it.

Lord God of the little ones, give me a heart that welcomes the littleness in each person I meet. Remind me that saying, “I don’t know,” or “be careful,” or “are you doing okay?” is one way of making space for littleness. In fact, becoming vulnerable, dependent, increasingly open to joy and beauty — these are ways in which we welcome you. Because it is in welcoming the little that we discover YOU, over and over and over again. 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Two

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Jonah 3:1-10

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind.” Don’t you love that little phrase? I imagine that for some folks, the implications of these words are troubling. At one time, they would have troubled me, as well. 

No longer.

And there are a couple of reasons for that. One of them is what I’ve learned over the years about genre in the collection of literature we call the Bible. Another is what I’ve learned — and experienced — of God.

Like the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, this quirky small book called “Jonah” is not meant to be taken as historical account. Jonah gives us an illustrative story, much like the parables Jesus used so effectively in his years of ministry.

That does not mean that it’s a ‘lie.’ On the contrary, Jonah tell us essential truth, truth writ large and loud and it shimmers with its glorious reflection of the heart of our God. It stands as a counterbalance to so much of the Old Testament narrative, those stories that tell us about the development of a chosen people and their purpose in the world. Those stories of failure, over and over again. Those stories that feature distinction, that tell the stories of one particular people group and the ways in which they interact with the One God.

Not so the story of Jonah. Here we have a beautiful little gem about inclusion. And surprise. And grace. Oh, yes, grace. Divine grace, juxtaposed to human lack of same! Jonah is like so many of us, maybe even all of us, don’t you think? He finds God’s bottomless wellspring of love for the entire world to be both unbelievable and unwelcome. If we are honest, most of us would probably rather that God didn’t love just anybody (and most certainly, not everybody)  the way that God loves us.

Enter Jonah.

But guess what? The folks over there in that pagan, godless town called Ninevah actually listen to Jonah’s words. Not only that, but they choose to turn around, to repent and to recognize their need for what God has to offer. They heed Jonah’s word of warning.

And God changed God’s mind.

Wow.

Oh, God of wonder, thank you for changing your mind about us, too. Thank you for wooing us — all of us — for giving us a way out of our own destructiveness and willfulness and pride. Hear our cries of repentance this day, and every day, and give us eyes to see your heart of love. Amen.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — A Lenten Journey

It is Ash Wednesday.

Again.

Thanks be to God.

Oh, I need this season. Each and every year, I need to walk the road that Jesus walked. I need to remember, to choose to let go of a thing or two that gets in the way of my remembering, to pray with added emphasis, to give of my abundance. Alms, fasting, prayer — the holy trinity for this season: giving away, giving up, giving to God. To help myself stay faithful to all that giving, I need reminders. Do you?

So I will provide a few along the way — for myself and for you, starting with now. Why? Because today, we walk into Lent — six weeks of remembering who Jesus really is, why Jesus really came to this earth, and who we are truly called to be.

Will you walk with me? Each occasional reminder will feature a photo, a scripture from the lectionary list for the day, a brief reflection, an even briefer prayer. There will be questions here and there and gentle reminders to stay vigilant and keep on truckin’. We will walk through parts of Holy Week together and then end this series with a proper Easter Sunday Celebration!

We’re heading home again, my friends. I’d say it’s time, wouldn’t  you?

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Isaiah 58:1-12
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

These words are read each and every year on this date. These words are ones that I would do well to read each and every OTHER day of the year, as well. Such powerful truth, such a strong reminder of the heart of our God and the heart of our faith. Fasting for the sake of inducing suffering is not what it’s all about. Fasting for the growth of our souls and the good of others — that’s what it’s all about. I love the fact that fasting and almsgiving have been traditionally linked together in this season. Because, as Isaiah reminds us, the truth of it is this: we cannot effectively give up without also giving out. 

My own fasting discipline this year will involve technology as well as food, with a step back from Facebook during the week. What about you? From what will you abstain during these weeks, remembering that each of the Sundays in Lent is a break-fast day?

And what will you give to others? My small list includes these occasional reflections. But of course, these are a gift to me, as well.

Oh, Giver of Good Gifts — enlighten and encourage us as we seek to reflect your goodness into our world. May we make wise choices, ones we can stick with, and may you be glorified through the decisions we make. 

A Safe Place: A Deeper Story

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As I began to wade into the waters of the internet at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, I wound my way over to this remarkable place called “A Deeper Story.” I was in transit at that point in my life, moving into retirement, giving up an identity I had happily filled for fourteen years as pastor and leader in my church. I wondered what was next for me, where God would have me thinking and working. And the only thing I knew, in those early days, was that I had a clear and direct call from God to write, and that call had the word ‘stories’ in it.

I’ve done a lot of exegetical, theological, spiritual and psychological work to become the person I am at this juncture of my life. And I could, if I chose to, make a good ‘argument’ for what I believe and why I believe it. But I was increasingly convinced, as I read all around the blogosphere, that I did not want to argue; I wanted to tell my story.

All of my stories, to be more precise. The fun ones, the adventurous ones, the love-filled ones — of course, yes, hooray. But I also wanted to tell the stories of wondering and wandering, of doubting and wrestling. And I wanted to read stories like that, too.

And “A Deeper Story” was the very best place I found to do that. The reading part, at least. And I read them all. Every single one.

And then, lo and behold! Just over a year ago, an invitation came for me to tell my stories in that rich space — a gift straight from the hand of God, courtesy of Megan Tietz. And this place has been a good, welcoming, wrestling place for me.

And here’s why.

All the people who write regularly or guest post at this site are starting from different places along the journey. We do not all agree on theology or politics or child-raising or any other topic you might care to mention. We do agree that we’re following hard after Jesus, and some days that’s a lot harder to do than others.

And that right there has been a tremendous gift. We care about one another, we encourage one another, we listen, we welcome. And our regular readers do that, too. The entire experience has been gift.

Right now, the site is in the midst of a pretty massive overhaul. It’s a necessary part of the growing process. And Nish Weiseth, whose brainchild ADS is, has been paying ALL of the costs connected to keeping this site going up to this point. Now, however, we’re turning a corner of sorts.

We’re growing up.

And as any parent will readily agree, growing up is expensive. So we’re asking for some help.

There is a Fundly campaign going on right now, today. And the goal is $4,000.

I am confident that the readers of ADS will help us reach that goal and, in addition, will give Nish a nice, comfy cushion to keep us afloat for a good, long time. I’ve already made a gift and may very well do so again.

Can I invite you over to the website today to read all about this from Nish’s perspective? You’ll find a link to the campaign over there.

Thanks so much for being a friend of mine and of this blog — and for following me over to ADS when one of my posts is up over there.

 

Ta Da! The Final Piece of the (in)Mercy Journey!

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Back in September, I was privileged to be a participant in the very first project from (in)Courage magazine’s commitment to raise funds for Mercy House in Kenya.

The beautiful brainchild of Kristin Welch and her family, this home provides safety, security, education, healthcare and spiritual input for twelve moms and their babies — beautiful babies whose lives have been saved from destruction because of this place, this house of mercy.

We had a total of FIVE projects to raise funds for – and the first four have been completely funded, with almost eight thousand dollars already raised for the last, and most ambitious of them all.

Project Number Five is a SECOND HOME, another living space for unwed moms and their babies, a sacred space where we can double the impact of this life-changing ministry

It’s a big challenge, a big idea, a GOD idea! And we believe that our goal can be met between now and Christmas. When you’re making out your Christmas lists this year, would  you consider putting the (in)Courage (in)Mercy Phase Five home somewhere near the top?

For the last several years, the gift-exchange in our family of sixteen has included gifts purchased in honor of one another, with funds going to a variety of peace and justice causes around the world. Everything from our denominational catalog of gift ideas to World Vision to Heifer International. In addition, I purchase jewelry for loved ones from sources that provide a living wage to sisters living in poverty in Haiti, Mexico and Indonesia. And this year, I will also be making a donation in all of our names to this remarkable ministry. 

Please check out the links below for more information about how you, too, can participate in this gift of love. I cannot think of a better way to honor that baby in the manger than to help provide care for moms and babies in Kenya.

You can make donations by clicking on this line, which will take you directly to the great people over at PureCharity, who have a video to watch, some of the most adorable photos you’ve ever seen in your life, and options for you to give for this final phase of our big fall project. What a challenge – and what a gift!

If you are interested in purchasing any of the (in)Mercy materials from Dayspring, you can find their webpage by clicking on this link.

A Letter to December

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Ah, Dear Friend,

We know each other well, do we not? So many years of immersion in all the folderol and all the richness of your seasonal gifts. Shall I list the ways?

  • the wedding plans, midway through my senior year of college
  • and all the subsequent anniversaries that got lost in the shuffle, some years more seriously than others — and there have been a lot of years, haven’t there? 48 on the 18th
  • a beautiful baby girl, 2nd of 2, born on the 2nd, with big brown eyes and a deliciously feisty spirit
  • choral concerts up the wazoo, every Christmas for most of my years until . . .
  • we moved to Santa Barbara for me to take a pastoral position in a church without a choir. Go figure.
  • writing Advent invitations for worship for about 20 years
  • preaching one Sunday in Advent for about 20 years, too
  • decorating the house with W-A-A-A-Y too many Christmas decorations, collected over the decades, starting with homemade delights from each of the kids and this year, adding some special ornaments from our moms’ collections
  • sweating (and swearing) our way to a steady, straight fresh tree in front of the windows; it gets harder every dang year
  • enjoying nativity sets collected from round the globe
  • singing the songs
  • reading the scriptures
  • pondering the mystery
  • regretting the over-spending
  • enjoying the gift-giving
  • collapsing on the 26th, exhausted but generally, more than content

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with you, I must admit. The candlelit service on Christmas Eve gets me every time. But the lugging of bins, the setting up the stuff, the overkill with gifts — yeah, that has gone above and beyond what is needful and what is healthy at points. 

So, December, what’s it gonna be? Will we find our way to a happy medium this year? Just enough of the good stuff and a little less of the not-so-good?

I pledge to do my part. Can you say the same?

Fondly,

Diana

This post is written in response to a prompt from Elora Nicole at her fabulous Story Sessions site. If you would like a series of thoughtful, evocative writing invitations, if you would enjoy being connected with a smaller (but ever-growing) group of other writers, may I suggest you check this site out? Just click here to read all about it.

The Truest Disciple: Reflections on John 12:1-8

I’m nearing the end of a wonderful online writing class (offered through www.tweetspeakpoetry.com) and for one of our lessons, we were asked to write something in the style of one of our favorite authors. I chose Barbara Brown Taylor, whose sermons are perfection. This small meditation is a very feeble attempt to echo her insightful handing of familiar Bible passages.

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“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”  (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

 

It was a party, you know. A dinner party. Because that’s where all the really good things in life happen, right? Sharing a meal with people we love, laughing over a shared glass of wine, telling stories, building memories.

And they were all there, the whole motley crew. The Twelve that followed Jesus up the road and down again. And the three – the siblings, Martha, Mary, Lazarus – who loved Jesus and hosted him time and again.

And this was a special party, truly special. Lazarus had been . . . well, there’s no other way but to put the bald truth out there — Lazarus had been dead.

And then he wasn’t, because Jesus said, ‘Come out.’

But like many parties often do, this one wound down to just three people, three people in the spotlight.

Jesus, because . . . well, he was Jesus, after all.

And Judas, because he asks hard questions and flings accusations.

And Mary.

Mary?

Right here, in the deeply misogynistic world of 1st century Palestine, the one in the fullest glare of the spotlight, the one truly faithful disciple turns out to be . . . a woman.

All the guys are there — the crusty fisherman, the bickering brothers, the tax collector, the one who sat under the fig tree. And they’ve all been there for the last three years, covered in dust, sprinkled with Galilean water, living the daily ins and outs of the Jesus life.

Yet somehow, they missed it. They missed the point of it all, the thrust of their mission, the terrifying end of the story they didn’t even know they were telling.

But Mary?

Mary gets it. She is so full of the glorious, heartbreaking truth that it literally pours forth from her body. She comes to the end of the dining couch, where Jesus is reclining by the table. She bends down, breaks open a wildly expensive vial of fragrant oil, and pours it over his feet, loosing her hair to rub it right into the cracks and crevices, scandalizing everyone in the room except the one she came to anoint.

Because, you see, she had been paying attention. Like that other Mary, she was ‘pondering these things in her heart,’ listening with care. As Judas snarled, Jesus calmed the storm: “Leave her alone . . . this perfume has been stashed away just for today, to prepare me for . . . my burial.”

Even here, on the eve of his own brutal death, Jesus insists on changing up the rules for acceptable behavior.  He shuts down what we might call the ‘churchy’ attitude, the self-righteous platitudes, and he elevates the simple but loving actions of a contemplative woman.

What we do and why and how we do it — that’s what counts. It’s not so much what we say or even what we believe — it’s what we do. Because the take-home truth is this: the surest sign of a true disciple is the delicious aroma that permeates every corner of the house.

Every corner.

 

In the midst of a hard and tiring week, I’m thankful tonight for 
the stories of scripture,
the gentle care of health aides where our moms live,
the sunshine sparkling on the water,
a 91 degree swimming pool for therapy on unhappy tendons,
CPK salads for dinner.

Joining this with Michelle and Jen, Ann & Jennifer this week:



The Widow’s Portion: a Story of Faithfulness

There’s an old, old story.
You know the one.
The one about
the prophet who goes to a faraway land,
hungry and tired.
And God tells him to look for a woman with sticks,
and ask her for something to eat.
The woman appears,
sticks and all,
but this woman, she is at the end of it.
Exhausted, empty, endurance run out.

There will soon be no more oil, no more flour, no more life . . .
and this stranger — this strange man — this prophet
shows up and asks for the last of what she has.
“Make it for me,” he says.
Make that last loaf for me.
“If you do, there will be enough.
Enough for you.
Enough for your son.
Enough for us all.”

And she does it.
She trusts this strange man’s words.
She bakes the bread,
she gives it away,
and from that point until the end of the drought
that has nearly killed her,
her jug is never empty, her canister is always full.

We have a story like this in our family,
and my husband has asked me to tell it.
I’m not sure I’m up to the task,
but I’ll put fingers to keyboard and see what comes up on the screen.

Dick with Joy, 2 days old, December 4th, 1969. His uncle’s funeral was just days later.

It was the year our 2nd daughter was born that it happened.
And she was born on his birthday,
this brother to my mother-in-law,
this uncle to my husband.
A roofer by trade,
a good and kind man by habit,
he and his wife had raised four children,
and then followed their hearts to the beach.
They bought a beautiful mobile home,
perched on a cliff near the sea,
moved their youngest son and her father
in with them, and began to enjoy the good life.

Except no one told them the gas lines lay on fill dirt.
No one told them the earth might settle wrong.
No one told them an explosion would take his life
and change an entire family system in less than a week’s time.

Five years later, insurance settled,
and the widow, our aunt,
walked into my husband’s investment office,
slapped the less-than-sufficient check
down on his desk and said,
“I’m trusting you to make sure this is enough, okay?”

My husband was relatively new to the investing business back then,
learning all the time,
getting good at picking companies well.
But this?
It felt overwhelming.
This was all she had,
all she would live on for the rest of her life . . .
and she had given it to his care.

And so he prayed over that check.
And he asked for wisdom and grace and courage.
And he began to make choices,
careful choices,
good choices,
consistent choices.

She would come back every year or so and say,
“You know, one of my kids (or my dad or my friend — she was
that kind of person) is needing some help. I want to take a little
more out than I usually do, okay?”

And my husband would sigh inside,
wondering how long he could keep building something
when she kept unbuilding it.

One of many bridal showers from that era,
many of them held in that aunt’s home in Pasadena before their move to the beach.
(Can you find me? The young girls on the left are now parents to grownup kids.
Heck, the babe-in-arms has a daughter heading off to college soon.
Yeah. . . time marches on.)

He kept a close eye on this account —
it was far from the biggest one he ever managed,
but it was special.
Turned out, it was more than that —
it was remarkable.

For nearly 25 years,
he kept investing that money.
For nearly 25 years,
she kept giving it away.

And when she died . . .
when she died,
the amount in that fund —
after all the living
and all the giving —
on that day, that barely-sufficient fund was 15% higher
than it was on the day they began.

I don’t have any idea how many loaves of bread
that widow was able to make from the
day Elijah gave her that promise.
All I know is this:
for the three and a half years of the deadly drought,
there was enough to save their lives.

I do not begin to understand percentages, either.
All I know is this:
Over those almost 25 years,
our aunt took out three times the original amount,
and when she died, it was all.still.there.

The jar stayed full;
the canister never emptied.

Thanks be to God.

Joining this with Jennifer and Emily 

 

Extravagant Giving

The text for this Sunday includes the story of the widow’s mite – the gift of everything that our observant Savior watched from his perch near the offering ‘trumpets’ in the Court of the Women in the Temple in Jerusalem. This happened just days before his own arrest and crucifixion and it follows on the heels of some pretty strong words of warning about religious authorities and their hypocrisy. It’s a text that has been widely preached during November (when it falls into the lectionary calendar, as a matter of fact). November – the traditional month for stewardship sermons as year end approaches and new budgets are being formulated. ‘Give, give, give til it hurts’ – that’s often the interpretation used at such times. And I do think it is possible that this text can be used as a template for preaching the power of proportionate giving…except…it’s a bit troubling. Does Jesus really beckon the disciples to join him in his people-watching in order to show them the ‘right’ kind of giving, the kind that every ‘good’ disciple should strive to emulate? Should we all really give away all that we have to live on? Or is there something else going on in this text, something a bit more subversive, and perhaps a bit more in tune with the immediate and general context of the gospel of Mark.

Jesus enfleshes the focussed concern of God for the people on the margins, most especially the widows and orphans, in a society where neither is well-cared for and where both are usually invisible. Just before this small story, Jesus castigates the scribes – those interpreters of the law who oppose Jesus all through Mark’s gospel account – and he particularly rides them for ‘devouring the houses of widows.’ Probably he was making reference to the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that these ‘unpaid’ religious professionals often used their positions of influence to extort funds from the most vulnerable, especially widows, who enjoyed no legal protection, and – if they produced no male children – no financial protection either. Though these scribes received no ‘official’ recompense for their scribal and interpretive work, they did know ways of getting funds. Somehow the picture of tv evangelists comes to mind here…perhaps with the promise of ‘increased blessing for increased giving??’

We cannot know, we can only surmise. But it does seem clear – from the harshness of Jesus’ tone and the pointedness of his words – that the behavior of those in religious leadership, those finding themselves in positions of power and authority, reflected both an abuse of that power and a misuse of that authority.

Jesus says strongly, “This will not do!” “Beware!” The disciples are instructed, in no uncertain terms, to watch out for these wolves in sheep’s clothing, to be especially careful of authorities who like the perks of the job – who wear fine clothes in an ostentatious manner; who want to be seen in the synagogue, choosing to sit up in front, on the bench that faces the congregation; who want the best couch at the banquet; who pray long, elaborate prayers at the same time they are fleecing the widows. Beware. Be careful. Watch out.

And then comes this small story of the widow’s gift. And her generous spirit is to be commended. Her admission of her complete dependence upon God and neighbor is to be emulated. Her digging deep to share with others is praiseworthy. But…I wonder. Could Jesus also be verbalizing a lament-of-sorts in this scene? Could he be calling his disciples’ attention to the very thing he has just been warning them about? Is he bewailing the religious system that encourages such destitution? I think there may be some of that in this text.

It certainly lines up with Jesus’ earlier teaching, in Mark 7, against religious authorities who shelter their money by calling it ‘devoted to God’ instead of taking care of their elderly parents. It certainly lines up with Jesus’ strong prophetic word in the verses which immediately follow this story, at the beginning of chapter 13. There, the disciples are praising the beauty of the temple building and inviting Jesus to do the same. Jesus, however, looks at that magnificent edifice and sees it in ruins, ‘no stone upon another,’ shocking his followers with his foreboding word. He sees a religious system that is rotten to the core. Where others see authority and power, Jesus sees seeping decay and imminent loss. And he will not be a party to it in any way, shape or form.

So he speaks his harshest words of criticism yet. Mark’s version is much briefer that Matthew’s entire chapter 23, but it is still powerful to read. He is on his way to the cross and he knows it. Throwing any vestige of caution to the winds, Jesus blasts away at the ‘authority’ of the religious superstructure, in essence inviting them to come after him. Jesus is preparing to give the most extravagant gift it is possible for any human being to give. And because he is the Son of God in human flesh, the extravagance level takes on untold layers of love. So I think, despite the lament that surely was there in Jesus’ words, there is a lovely way in which this small person, living on the margins of her culture, provides us with a window into the gift that is coming. Like the other widow in this week’s readings – the one at Zarepath who used her last flour and water to feed a hungry prophet named Elijah – this widow willingly gives all that she has to the service of God.

Jesus had no use for authority that was illegitimate and abusive. And Jesus spoke with true authority – with power and certainty and ability that exceeded anything the scribes could offer. Jesus called false authority what it was. He named the evil and he stepped strongly into the melee that resulted from his truth-telling words. And on the way, he noticed a poor widow, flinging her tiny coins into the offering box at the temple. At one and the same time, her story serves to condemn the insidious abuses of wrongly-used authority and to highlight the beauty of generosity and humility, the offering of oneself and one’s meager gifts with relinquishment and dependence.

How hard it is for us to do that! We’d much rather wear the flowing robes and get the best seats at the banquet, thank you. Admitting that we are totally dependent upon Another for our very breath is difficult to do. It is somehow even harder to acknowledge that we are also dependent upon that One for the money in our pocket, the roof over our heads and the abundance which we enjoy. Placing ourselves in a position of dependence – or more accurately, acknowledging the fact that we are already there – is tough for 21st century western Christians to do. I have known very few people in my life for whom that kind of humility, graciousness and generosity is a natural part of daily living. And one of my primary life examples died this past week, a person whose absence from this planet impoverishes me and everyone who ever knew him.

I’ll write about Thomps in a later edition…

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