Long Robe Larry

Mark 12:38-44 – The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 11, 2012

“…but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had…” (Mark 12:44)

What if I’m wrong?

There is a remarkably simple Biblical passage, near the final pages and chapters of Mark’s brief Gospel, where an impoverished widow gives her last two cents to the synagogue’s treasury.

Jesus contrasts her apparent generosity with the religious authority’s arrogance, pretentiousness and stinginess.

Since my earliest Sunday school adventures—in the era of grandfatherly Eisenhower and Camelot Kennedy—the poor widow had been dubbed generous. She did what all people should do. My Sunday school teachers had no problem explaining her actions to us munchkins. Look, kids, those scribes were nasty, but she happily gave everything to God’s work! You go forth, follow Jesus and give your pennies! Keep a smile on your faces! I don’t recall any of my more mature studies at seminary refuting the fundamental lessons of this event:  be humble, be generous, give everything you can.

Hmmm, old John Wesley had a long robe and fancy collar! But he practiced what he preached…in death he only had a few coins and silver spoons to his name. He’d given the rest away!

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement (and of my denomination) famously sermonized on money: “Having, first, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then give all you can.”

Gain!

Save!

Give!

Those seem perfect cheers for and from the faithful, and isn’t the impoverished widow the ideal Gospel cheerleader to encourage that “holy trinity” of honest work, frugality and stewardship?

*         *         *

Over ten years ago, I settled into my senior pastor’s chair, cocooned in my long clerical robe and fancy stole. I listened to the associate pastor’s sermon on Mark 12:38-44, on the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and the apparent generosity of the poor widow. On this “go and do likewise” passage of gain . . . save . . . give.

You should know a few things about me before I tell you what happens next.

If you asked me if I were a good preacher, I’d probably bow my head and mutter, “Aw shucks, I’m only trying to please God and follow Jesus.” And yet I think I am a good preacher. Ego. Self-confidence. Even, gasp, a little (a lot) arrogant?

I didn’t have a good relationship with the associate pastor. I’d “inherited” her from a prior senior pastor and, while I respected her gifts and graces, I never felt a connection. Some professional relationships work. Some don’t. In my view, we pendulumed between working and not working together, never fully trusting each other. Not her fault. Not mine.

She wowed me in that sermon. Continue reading →