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November 12, 2015, 2:26 PM

Seeing with New Eyes

Mark 12:38-44      CEB
38 As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets.39  They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 40  They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”
41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.[a] 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44  All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”
Seeing With New Eyes
Going to Jerusalem was a HUGE deal and an incredible experience, especially for the followers of Jesus from the rural regions of Galilee. Imagine the first time you went to a big city—such a New York City or Washington DC. It is a little overwhelming; the size of the buildings, the fast pace, the sounds, smells, sights. It is hard to take it all in and you find yourself almost spinning in place to see it all, register it all.  That is what going to Jerusalem was like for the disciples and followers of Jesus, and four times bigger. Jerusalem was not only so much bigger than anything they had experienced, it was also the center of their religion. It was the city where God dwelt with the people, in some fashion. There on the Temple Mount was the Temple of God, in which resided the Holy of Holies, where the high priest would enter into the presence of God on behalf of the people. Think about going into one of the might cathedrals—St. Patrick’s or St. John the Divine in New York City, the National Cathedral in Washington DC, or one of the mighty cathedrals of Europe, such as Notre Dame. The sense of awe and majesty and wonder is almost overwhelming.
As we encounter our story today, Jesus and his followers have just arrived in Jerusalem two days prior, and boy, did they arrive. Jesus entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Bethany riding on a donkey, as King David did for his coronation. Crowds of people lined the road shouting “Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” They waved palm branches and cloaks and lined the road with them as well. The powers that be certainly took notice.  Though Jesus and his followers popped by the Temple quickly upon arrival, Jesus visited the Temple in earnest the following day, and he created another ruckus. As he entered the Temple he encountered the money-exchangers, those who converted Roman coins into Temple currency so that the tainted Roman money did dirty up God’s holy space. Those exchangers charge a rate for making the exchanges, sometimes as much as 50%! Right next to them were the dove sellers, whose purpose was to sell doves to the poorest of the poor, so that they might make a meager offering to God. However, they had so inflated their prices that those poorest couldn’t offer anything at all. Jesus enters the Temple and encounters these who make their fortune on the backs of those they are supposed to serve and he flips his lid… and a few tables. The powers that be certainly took notice.
In our reading, Jesus and his followers have returned once again to the Temple for the day. They are wandering the vast Temple precincts, from court to court, portico to portico, teaching area to teaching area. And as they wander, those powers that be descend upon Jesus. Chief priests, elders, scribes, all the Temple leadership engage with Jesus, angry and alarmed over his actions in those few days. They challenge and question his authority, and test his knowledge and interpretation of scripture. And in all those encounters, Jesus turns the questions and testing back on those leaders, making fools of them in the eyes of their people, mocking them and shining light on their corruption. It is no surprise that the week ends with Jesus’ death on the cross.
As Jesus and his followers continue their wandering, they pass a group of scribes, richly dressed in their long robes.  These are the Temple lawyers, those who interpret and apply the law for the people, for a nice fee, and who also receive an impressive income from the Temple coffers. Jesus notices them and voices his disgust at their behaviors. “Look at them, those scribes in their long robes. They are all about honor and privilege, power and position…in the marketplace, the synagogue, and of course, at any banquet. They put together systems through which they can devour widow’s homes upon the death of their husbands and cover it up with showy, long prayers full of false piety! I tell you, their judgement will be harsh indeed!”
Just as Jesus finishes saying this, their wandering brings them to the Court of Women where the Temple treasury coffers are houses.  Thirteen large wooden chests line the walls with large funnels on top to funnel in the offerings.  People are coming and going, wealthy and power people. They walk up to the chest, cast in their offering, and loudly share the amount.  What Jesus was just lecturing about is come to life right here in front of them. Jesus sits down over opposite the treasury and watches this spectacle taking place.
And that is when he sees her, one of the poorest of the poor—ptochoi in Greek—a beggar widow woman, one of those widows whose houses are devoured by the scribes, putting her whole livelihood into the Temple coffers that will support those Temple lawyers. Putting her money into the system that has left her destitute instead of protecting her as it should. What must Jesus be feeling? Anger? Certainly, and we hear that anger in next week’s reading, where he and his followers are leaving the Temple and he declares that “not one stone (of that Temple) will left standing.” Is he heartbroken to0, witnessing this widow giving to a system that won’t care for her? But he is also moved by her courage and the beauty of her faith, as her love of God moves her forward into the crowd of the wealthy and privileged, to cast her offering alongside them, for the glory of God.
Jesus quickly calls closer his followers. This is a teachable moment. Perhaps here he can help them to see with new eyes, to see past their wonder and awe at the majesty of God’s Temple, and to see the corruption and abuse of the leadership that preys on the vulnerable, and to see the wondrous faith that still burns in the hearts of the people. “Do you see her? Look, right there, that ptochoi, that beggar widow? I tell you that she has given more than anyone else here making their offerings! They are all giving out of their abundance. They won’t even notice anything missing tomorrow. But this woman has given her holon ton bion, the whole of her life. She has given her whole life.” And we know that Jesus will give his whole life in just a few short days on Calvary’s hill.
What a mix of emotions, to see the ugliness of human corruption and the beauty of pure faith displayed here side by side! Do Jesus’ followers now see? Can they see beyond the pomp and circumstance of the Temple? Can they see both the ugliness and the beauty? Can we?
Too often this passage is shortened to only include the widow’s offering, the widow’s mite…and the moral of the story is, “we should give as the widow gives.” Well, yes…and no. Of course, God wants us to give our whole selves to God. But this passage is so much deeper than that moral of the story. This story is about our call to follower Jesus. This passage is about our call to discipleship. Jesus calls us to see as he sees, to put on our Jesus glasses, to see with new eyes. Jesus calls us to see the places where systems abuse the most vulnerable, especially in the Church. Jesus calls us to see those who are invisible to the world, left behind by the world, cast aside by the world. Jesus calls us to enter those spaces and to minister to those vulnerable and invisible people, and in doing so, to witness to the stunningly beautiful faith and grace we will encounter there.
That happened to me this week. On Monday. Monday is my day ‘off,’ which means it is my day to do laundry and house cleaning and grocery shopping, etc. I was returning from Hannaford’s, on Main Street, about to turn onto Chestnut Street at the light, to go past the church on my way home. And, as usual, the light caught me and I was waiting for it to change. I was paying particular attention to the intersection Monday because a pedestrian had been killed just a few days before while crossing the street. And that is when I saw him, a young man, maybe 20 years old. He was sitting on the curb in front of The Yellow Deli, facing Clinton Plaza. He was so thin he was skeletal. His hair was matted and greasy. He sat hunched, arms on his knees, and a cigarette between two fingers, as his hands, and much of his body tremored. Any of us with social service/psychology/law enforcement backgrounds would recognize it instantly—the man was in the throws of painful withdraw symptoms, probably from opiods. But he wasn’t alone. Sitting next to him on the curb was a man from the Twelve Tribes, who own the Yellow Deli. The Twelve Tribes member sat next to the young man, an arm wrapped about his shoulders, and just held him in silence. The trembling man leaned into the embrace. This member of the Twelve Tribes community was wearing his Jesus glasses and he saw what no one else in that intersection saw, and he offered the ministry of presence to that young man in desperate need. He saw what was invisible to the world and he responded. He had eyes to see. May we have such eyes as well. Thanks be to God.  Amen. 

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