Sermon for 24th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday November 8, 2015
Mark 12:38-44

Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson

 In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

He 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. (Mark 12: 41-42)

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched …

Jesus, the one who has deep understanding of human nature, keeps watch and reflects on what people are doing and what drives them, what motivates their actions. We know that Jesus is driven by one thing. His close relationship with God who he knows as father. Jesus is driven by the love he knows and by the love he knows God has for all creation. Jesus walked this earth so that we might know that love.

Jesus watches the religious leaders and he sees, on the other hand, their insecurity.

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. (12:38-40)

“For the sake of appearance” Jesus says. The scribes wish to have everything that will give them the place of honour. Even in their relationship with God – in their praying “long prayers” – they are behaving only in such a way that will draw to them the attention of others.

Tragic, this. For they have the attention of the one who matters. Jesus watched … Jesus saw them do everything for the wrong reason. God is always watching. Watching, though, with love.

Perhaps Jesus’ harshest critique of these scribes is that they devour widows’ houses. Devour is a strong word, an intense word; it implies a determination to possess the home, the place of safety, for the most vulnerable in the society of Jesus’ time and place. The widow, in Jewish culture, represented the most vulnerable one. And God is clear about how the widow is to be treated.

Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Says God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 1:17) …plead for the widow.

Yet these “scribes” devour the houses of the vulnerable, the widows.

Jesus watched … Jesus saw these scribes do everything for the wrong reason. God is always watching.

This watching God sees everything through the eyes of love, the eyes of pity, of compassion.

Rowan Williams writes with an insight into human nature and the nature of God that I have found to be at the same time disarming and profoundly helpful. We will spend a little time reflecting on his writings as they will shed insight on what happens in this gospel reading. Silence and Honey Cakes is a book which contains reflections on sayings of the desert mothers and fathers. One such saying goes as follows: We have put aside the easy burden, which is self accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification.[1] Rowan Williams writes the following:

Self-justification is the heavy burden because there is no end to carrying it; there will always be some new situation where we need to establish our position, dig the trench for the ego to defend. But how on earth can we say that self-accusation is a light burden? We have to remember the fundamental principle of letting go of our fear. Self-accusation, honesty about our failings, is a light burden because whatever we have to face in ourselves, however painful is the recognition, however hard it is at times to feel we have to start all over again, we know that the burden is already known and accepted by God’s mercy. We do not have to create, sustain and save ourselves; God has done, is doing and will do all. We have only to be still …[2]

This illustrates how difficult it is for a human being to be open to God. Like the scribes in this morning’s reading, we can be closed in, focussed on ourselves, as we attempt the endless task of asserting that we are worthwhile. The great irony is that the one who names us worthwhile, God, is waiting nearby ready to gather us into God’s love. Jesus watched … God is always watching …

In another book, Rowan Williams gives a description of God that resonates surprisingly closely with the description of human beings that we find in Silence and Honey Cakes. He writes of God as “the unconditional witness to whom [we] seek to be open”[3] and of “the ‘infinite resource’ of God, the reality or presence that has no interest to pursue and no selfhood to defend.”[4] We have, then a description of God as a witness – one who watches, as Jesus does in our reading – a witness whose behaviour is the opposite of our own – we are endlessly trying to justify ourselves whereas God has “no interest to pursue, no selfhood to defend.” It is tempting to conclude that a witness with no defensive behaviour is utterly safe. A knowledge of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books in which God is characterised as the lion, Aslan, will quickly have one withdraw that word. We might remember the scene in which the little girl Lucy asks the beavers if Aslan is safe: “Safe?” said Mr Beaver, “ … Who said anything about safe. ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” [5]

It is as if a human being stands with arms tightly closed around themselves whilst God stands nearby with arms outstretched, only wanting to gather us in.

Jesus watched … This watching God sees everything through the eyes of love, the eyes of pity, of compassion.

One character in the snippet of Mark’s Gospel that we read this morning knows about the one who is watching her. She goes into the temple and she gives everything she has. The widow. The vulnerable one. Somehow she knows who God is and she feels safe in God’s presence. She does not need to show that she is worthwhile. Strangely, she knows her worth, her worth in the eyes of God. And so she opens her arms and gives her all.



[1] Williams, Rowan Silence and Honey Cakes, (Oxford: Lion Books, 2003), p47.

[2] Ibid, pp47-8.

[3] Williams, The Edge of Words p89.

[4] Ibid, p90.

[5] Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: Collins, 1998),p87, (chapter 8).