Primary Scripture: Mark 12:28-44
Once again, we see Mark describing a series of conversations, one after another. Last week, we talked a bit about the players in these interactions. I’d like to talk a bit today about the where…
It might feel like weeks, as slowly as we’ve approached this section. But for Jesus and the 12, it’s still the Tuesday after they arrived in Jerusalem. We’ve entered the scene after Jesus and his followers have been in the temple for a while.
The Jerusalem temple in Jesus’ time was huge – Mall of America huge. It was a giant complex really – surrounded by a wall with many gates allowing worshippers inside. They would have walked into the outer courts, where they would have met crowds of pilgrims. And of course vendors ready to supply the various animals needed for sacrifice.
If there were women in the party, they would only be welcomed in the outer courts… but the men would continue across the courtyard toward the inner courts, where the priests did their work. Behind them was the most holy area, the holy of holies.
As you can imagine, this was quite a social place. The various rabbis and priests would come together with the young boys and make sure they were learning the ways of the Torah. And as happens when seminarians and pastors get together, there would be lots of conversations about the teaching that happened.
In the Jewish tradition, it is not unusual for rabbis to disagree, to come to different conclusions about how to interpret the law or the words of the prophets. There is even a tradition called “midrash” in which scripture is interpreted in ways that stretch beyond the written tradition.
We might call it Holy Imagination – in which one fills in the gaps in a story based on what one knows about God and the people in the story. For instance, teachers might try to explain why Adam didn’t stop Eve from eating the fruit. Or to describe the life of Abram as a child based on the faith he displayed in his old age.
So when Jesus entered the courts of the temple, he was on his game, ready to compare his teachings and interpretation of scripture to those of the scribes, the chief priests and others. And they were prepared to the do the same. It’s what they did.
In fact, when young Jesus was “lost” during that family trip and was finally found… He was among the teachers, very likely having the first of these deep theological conversations with men of faith.
The difference on this day, as we talked about last week, was the danger that Jesus’ growing popularity and his increased identification as the Messiah. This was a dangerous prospect for these men caught between the jewish people and the Roman empire.
As Jesus moved through the courtyard, he sparred with multiple groups – over scripture, over the payment of taxes to Caesar, over the understanding of marriage relationships in the time of the resurrection…. And just as he leaves the last set of questioners scratching their heads over his answer, another walks up…. (Mark 12:28-34)
This time, the man appreciates Jesus’ answer, and when he reflects back what he has heard, understanding it to be right, Jesus sees that the man’s heart. He sees that the man’s heart is in the right place.
And isn’t that what Jesus has been after the whole time? Not just knowing the right answer based on intellect or tradition or consensus, but knowing in your heart what actions, what words best reflect God’s love.
I heard a Rabbi interviewed earlier this week, and he was asked about the people in his charge, those who attended worship at his synagogue. He said they were a mix of people with traditional theology who had been around a long time and others who were new and just exploring what it means to have faith in God. And then he said something I found very Jesus-like.
He said, it really doesn’t matter how much we agree on the details, the specifics of the Torah or the Talmud. What matters is what happens when we walk out of the synagogue… Are we doing anything to bring healing to the world?
What does that look like for you? asked the interviewer.
Loving God by loving people, by serving them and listening to them, and by caring for all that God has given us.
In the end, that is the sort of disciple, Jesus was trying to help his followers become.
You probably heard echoes of his teaching about the last being first and the first being last toward the end of today’s reading. Listen again…. Mark 12:38-40
That’s enough to make a girl not want to robe….
Or pray long prayers…
It certainly challenges me to pay close attention to whether our ministry together serves the community or imposes hardships.
It struck me that while the leaders of the temple were preening and posing, challenging Jesus’ authority, there were probably hundreds of people like the widow bringing offerings that represented real sacrifice, real faith, real enacted love for God.
Now- it’s awfully tempting to turn that into a stewardship sermon. After all, what might happen if all of us contributed so generously and sacrificially to the mission of this church?
But this is about much more than the money. The truth is she has done what he described as the most faithful response to the question about the tribute taxes.
Remember? Give to the emperor that which is the emperor’s.
Pay your tax.
But also give to God all that is God’s.
In God’s economy, the widow is a person of great value, even if her offering is meager even though she has no status, no power in her community. And Jesus saw her; Jesus saw her faith.
I wonder if she knew she was being watched. Let me do a little midrash here…
I’d like to believe she felt them looking at her, and turned to see them. And that Jesus was able to catch her eye and convey just how loved she was, how much she mattered, how much the God she was honoring would one day honor her.
Last Sunday evening, I watched part of the Oscars. I don’t watch for the red carpet stuff – you might have guessed by now that I’m not much on fashion. I watch for the surprise wins – the people who really are underdogs and don’t expect to hear their name called. Why? Because in that moment, they are experiencing what I imagine we will experience when we finally are face to face with Jesus.
See, those men and women hear their name called, and after years of dreaming and scrapping and working and honing their craft, they hear their peers saying,
I see you.
I see you putting heart and soul, creativity and strength into your art.
Your life and your work – they matter.
Don’t you know that must feel a lot like love?
And when it is completely unexpected, perhaps seems undeserved, a lot like grace?
A lot like being welcomed deeper into a community?
Now, I can’t speak for what happens after they get played off the stage while attempting to express their excitement and gratitude… But that moment of being seen, being honored, being loved… in that moment, there is joy and hope and maybe even a little healing.
That feels a lot like what we – the church– the embodiment of the Christ who sees – are called to be doing in the world. How might the world be healed and transformed if we took the time to notice and honor people for the ways they bring beauty and hope and life into the world?
What if you were to stop long enough to say, “I saw you holding the door open for that mom trying to get her kids out of the store. Thanks for showing kindness.”
“Wow, you were so polite to that customer. I bet that wasn’t easy when they were so short. I hope your day gets better.”
“I know that you deal with a lot as a teacher. Thank you for being so dedicated to young people.”
You see, it’s really easy for us to stand on the side, posing, pretending that we’ve got everything figured out and are always in the right. And maybe we don’t recite long prayers in public, but we can sure go on and rant about what is wrong with this or that or them…
The thing is – posing and ranting and fussing does nothing to offer love in real substantial ways to the people God has in front of us every day. Including those whose names we don’t yet know.
Love for our neighbors comes from the heart…
A heart that has experienced the healing, life-giving, transforming love of God.
A heart that is experiencing healing, life-giving, transforming love in community.
A heart that hears these words from other hearts: I see you. You matter to me. You are loved.
I postponed the passing of the peace earlier this morning because I wanted us to go past greeting each other this morning and maybe do a little loving. Think of it as dress rehearsal for when we head out into the larger community later…
Take out those three cards you signed earlier this morning.
On one of them write “I see you”
On another one write “You matter”
On the third one write “I’m sorry”
Now you are going to give these cards away.
You are going to let someone know that you see them putting their heart and soul into something, even if no one else notices. That is the I See You card.
You are going to let someone know that they matter to you, that they bring hope or life or joy or something beautiful to your life. That is the You Matter card
And you have a chance to apologize or confess to someone. Perhaps you have thought or said things you ought not. Perhaps you have harbored a grudge. Perhaps you accidentally stole a pen! This is why you have an I’m Sorry card.
Each of these cards is meant as an invitation to a longer conversation… including an opening to begin to reconcile. Saying I’m sorry is a good first step. And it is an important step to take as we approach the Lord’s table this morning.
Now- I am going to pray for just a moment, asking God to bring to mind the people we need to see and love in this room today. When I say Amen, we will take a few moments to do just that.
God who speaks, whisper now the names of those who need our love, our words, our tangible expressions of your love in us and through us.
God who sees, give us eyes to see one another as you see us, children who can never stray beyond the reach of your love.
God who loves, give us hearts that expand to welcome all you would welcome, that begin to understand just how much every one of us matters to you.
God who forgives, give us the courage to admit our faults and to say I’m sorry. Give us the courage to offer grace. Give us the courage to walk together into reconciliation.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
Lord, in your mercy, guide our steps. AMEN