Being what would normally be an election day I cannot help but think back to when I lived in Iowa. Living in Iowa in a presidential election year is a very interesting thing. It is partially the reason I no longer have a landline: too many calls! It was there that I learned the saying: “You have no right to complain if you don’t take the time to vote!”
I recognize that there are many counters to that, but, really, few hold much water. The one that goes the farthest is the argument that one’s vote statistically does not matter. With some of the close elections of the past few years I think that myth has been blown out of the water, but even without a close election, voting has as much to do with participating in our society as it does the outcome; if we choose not to vote, we make the conscious choice not to be part of society.
It is interesting because we have a very simple and private way to get involved, yet many people make the choice not to. Unfortunately, this is a huge problem! Not only does it mean that the best decisions are not made, but also our society lacks because we end up relying on the powerful to think and act on our behalf, not on the behalf of what is the best for society.
This is not new. At the time of Jesus, the Hebrew people had bestowed onto the clerical community all the authority of faith. Instead of taking an active role, they followed the leadership and relied on them to make the determinations as to what was faithful, what was not, and, most importantly, what to believe. We see this develop throughout the Hebrew works, most of which were completed a few hundred of years prior to Christ.
By the time of the prophets people had become lackadaisical in faith. In some instances they had been found to be worshipping false prophets, their leaders, their own wants and desires, even other gods. But often we see in the stories this disconnect started when the people no longer made it a priority to follow their faith and instead chose either to withdraw or follow some human interest or desire.
It is easy to see how the powerful use society for their own benefit. They did not have elections as we do, but they did have money, and money, as it does today, carries power and influence. As we see with the Scribes in Mark 12:38-39, their money affords them both a comfortable life and power, but what do they do with that power?
Conversely, we have the poor woman in Mark 12:42. The story tells us of a woman who gave everything she had out of her faith. It was not much to others, but it was everything to her. While no one would respect the amount she gave, Christ uses this to point out that her reward does not come in what is tangible now, but with what is intangible in heaven. So what is important is not the amount, but the sacrifice.
It is interesting that this passage follows the one concerning the Golden Rule. For the scribes to assert their position they have to be able to judge others as lesser than themselves, but for the woman, her gift is a judgment of her own heart. It comes from self-reflection and faith, trusting that her gift will be used greatly. And for God, that is the most important kind of gift!
The Scribes are imbued with power because the society has allowed this to happen. They are honored for giving out of their abundance. And that gives them an understanding that they are better than others because of their position. They feel that they hold a position, which allows them to flaunt their wealth and power.
But the story that Christ tells shows something very different. Their giving was not sacrificial, it was easy, and their participation in the temple was far more about show than it was faith. The poor woman is the one in the seat of honor, not for the amount she gave but that she gave everything of herself to God. Most importantly, she did not expect a return on the money, praise, or services!
In this time of stewardship, we don’t expect you to give everything you have, but we do ask you to think about that example of faithful giving, but not just with money, with time and talents as well. Think about how your faith can grow not looking for the return but how you use your gifts to build up the body and build your relationship with God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen