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The Widow in Mark

November 13, 2012

In the past, how many times have we heard this Gospel text? How many times have we heard the sermon revolve around the “widow” being so pious and giving all that she had? How many times have we heard a sermon from this Gospel text about tithing?
Well, this morning let us look at this passage slightly different. First, let us look at the role of the scribes. In the first century world, the scribes were temple authorities. They were involved in collecting the temple taxes. In other words, they were very important to the day to day running of the temple. How did the scribes become so important? Their position usually was passed down from generation to generation. The temple authorities “importance” was due to their “status” in the community, which was linked to their birth order. The eldest son of the family takes over from his father, as did his father before him. And so on and so on. Is this a wise thing to do? The gospel writer says further in today’s passage “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” Let’s look closer at this description.
How do the temple authorities devour the widows’ houses? They had the “power” to take property especially if they gained something from it . . . . .usually more power. Is this what is supposed to happen? Aren’t the temple authorities supposed to help the needy and not take from them?
What makes a woman a widow in the first century? There are generally two ways: 1) to lose her husband through death and 2) the woman’s family not being able to afford a proper dowry for her to marry in the first place.
The first option illustrates that the woman’s husband did not have any brothers to marry her after he died or she decided not to remarry at all. The second option illustrates what may happen if there is a family with many female children in it. A proper dowry cannot be afforded to each female child. What type of “widow” was the woman in today’s scripture? It isn’t specified, but does it really matter? These two scenarios show that she, the “widow” did not have the legal protection of a husband. In the extremely patriarchal society of the first century Roman Empire women were mostly a commodity, a good to be bargained and sold. Does this still happen in the 21st century?
Even today, we have glimpses of this in the modern marriage. In the Marriage Ceremony, found on page 437 of our own Book of Common Prayer the Officiant asks, “Who gives this woman to be married?” Who has bargained and sold this woman to another man, to belong to someone else? We may not ask this is the same sense as our first century counterparts, but it is asked all the same.
If we are careful readers of today’s gospel text, we notice that Jesus was in the temple courtyard across from the treasury. What was he doing? He was “people- watching.” People-watching – what a fun thing to do . . . yes, I too, and probably you as well, like to sit back and watch people. Engaging in this activity, we can see the full spectrum of people in their humanity or the lack thereof. Jesus was fond of people- watching and did it often. What was going on in Jesus’ mind when he watched the temple authorities and the widow? This widow that is talked about in today’s gospel is one of the 800 or so women that are not named in our scriptures. She is not even referred to as the widow of so-and-so or some man’s name. Therefore the “widow” may have been the only surviving heir of a family where she was never married. Since she did not have the protection of a husband or her father. The temple authorities in their role of “protector” took her family’s property and leaves her penniless, taking her very last penny.
How would you feel if this happened to you? How would you feel if the people you were taught through societal norms to respect, took all you had? Every last cent! Every ounce of human dignity . . . . . oh yes, that’s right, the lower class people of this period in human history could not afford dignity. They were to be abused and oppressed until the “powers that be” got everything they could from these people. Oppression everywhere. Then over there is that peasant carpenter from Nazareth watching and telling us to “watch your backs” because here comes another blow to your, meaning our, humanity. You know thus had to start getting under the skin of the officials of this time.
How can we apply this to today? When we see suffering, we should be ready to stand up for and with those who are suffering. We need to raise our voices to challenge those who are abusing their power in this world. We need to stand united and honor these people who have made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down their lives for those they do not even know. (Just as our Lord and Savior did.) Most people may not have laid down their lives on a wooden cross like Jesus, but perhaps they laid down their lives in a foxhole in a country far from home so that we could have the freedom to agree to disagree.
On this Veteran’s Day, not only do we remember the valiant men and women of our armed forces of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but also we must remember to stand with those who are oppressed in the world today, tomorrow, and the next.
Let us pray. Creator God, w give you thanks for all those who have, who are now, and who will be tomorrow serving our country. May they, through their service of our country, also serve you. May we, also serving you, serve those who are victims of all forms of oppression, wherever we may meet, for the honor of your Holy Name. Amen.

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From → jimmyahornjr

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