theunfamiliarname

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 32B

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2009 at 11:04 pm

It has been postulated
that whole Mediterranean civilisations and economies have been predicated
on the carrying capacity of little black-clad grandmothers.

Author Terry Pratchett writes:
“The ability of skinny old ladies to carry huge loads is phenomenal.
Studies have shown that an ant can carry one hundred times its own weight, but there is no known limit to the lifting power
of the average tiny eighty-year-old Spanish peasant grandmother.”

Think of Russia under the Soviet regime.
A thousand years of Orthodox Christian tradition,
silenced and set-upon for seventy years.
Yet that faith and tradition still exist.
Who kept the gospel faith and saw that it was passed on,
until it could emerge into the open when the Iron Curtain came down?
It was the babushka. The grandmother.

Bishops and Patriarchs I’m sure had a role,
but the faithfulness of little old ladies,
formidable little old ladies – don’t get me wrong –
but figures who slipped under the radar,
kept the Church alive.

Without the fine robes, without the flourish, without the finance.
Grandmothers, widows, have given out of their poverty.
Have more than pulled their weight. Have prevailed.

This morning we have that well-worn story of the widow’s mite.
A woman, perhaps a little black-clad grannie,
perhaps a much younger woman,
but poor, vulnerable, and essentially invisible in her world.
In Jesus’ world, to be a widow was a terrible, frightening thing.
Not for nothing does Scripture talk often about caring for widows and orphans.
In a man’s world, where women were defined by their relationships to men
as daughters, wives, mothers,
in a world without social security, without the Welfare State,
widows were right at the bottom. Poor, vulnerable, invisible.

And today we watch with Jesus as,
in the midst of the good and the great coming to the Temple,
the place where ancient economics and religion meet,
a woman gives two copper coins. The lowest value currency, the lepton.
Even more pathetic than our new ten cent pieces.

Look, even two thousand years later,
you get two lepta in a presentation pack for US$5.99 plus postage & handling.

Two. Tiny. Coins.

It’s over in a second.
The chink of bags laden with silver, the opulent colour of aristocratic bling
given with due pomp and show, doesn’t stop.
But a woman passes by and drops her whole financial world
where nobody notices.

Except Jesus.

Maybe this is one of the women who’ve lost their homes to the scribes,
the educated legal types of their day,
whom Jesus accuses of “devouring widow’s houses”.
Maybe this is a last act of desperation, or hopelessness.

Maybe, just maybe, this is an act of profound and complete trust.

Regardless, this woman who has most need,
has given her all.
Everything.
Her extravagance is as complete as her poverty.
You’ll know the story about the pig and the chicken. Good friends.
Life on the farm’s pretty good,
so they decide to make the farmer breakfast as a gesture of thanks.
The chicken draws up the menu, and comes to confirm with the pig.
The pig looks at the menu, then looks at the chicken.
Looks at the menu, then looks at the chicken again.
“I’m having second thoughts,” he says.
“What’s the problem?” says the chicken “I thought you were a team player.
I thought you said you wanted to contribute”.
“Look,” says the pig, “’eggs’ is a contribution, I appreciate that.
But ‘bacon’, now that’s total commitment.”

Back to the Temple, where – the pig can be reassured –
bacon is out of the question…

Total commitment.

I like to think Jesus sees that this widow, the least in her society,
has given her all out of radical, complete faithfulness and identification
with the God of her salvation.
Far from being desperate might-as-well-give-it-away-ism,
this is a statement of trust and of power.

How power?
This woman is paradoxically so free
from the insecurity of money and possessions – she has none –
that they have no hold over her.
Where the rich young ruler – he of camels and the eyes of needles fame –
cannot let himself go, this poor widow can.

The widow’s mite, the Roman name for the lepton coin, m – i – t- e,
is in fact the widow’s might, m – i – g- h -t.

Her full statement of commitment, two copper coins,
is one with the staunchness and sacrifice of those Russian grandmothers,
who had little, but gave much.
Those who we remember this day, who have lived and died
in the cause of justice and ultimately in the hope of peace and an end to war.
Those who choose to give their all,
to know real cost for the sake of service.

 

We simply don’t value what has no cost.

I wonder, does God?

Where is the cost, for you and for me,
in the Gospel of Christ?
Where is the commitment that might see us give of ourselves,
fully, deeply, willingly.
This could so easily be a stewardship sermon, and perhaps in a way it is,
but I ask you – as I ask myself –
where is the cost in my giving of who and what I am?
Am I really giving God the whole of what I have,
however tiny that might seem?
Or, dressed up in what might be described as ‘fine robes’,
am I simply giving God what I think I won’t miss?
Out of my plenty, not my poverty.

Perhaps it’s my poverty,
the parts of myself I am most frugal with, I hold most closely and tightly,
that God actually wants me to offer?

The widow with just two copper coins knows about cost.
She does not need the approval of a world that does not notice her.
She does not shy away from cost.
She does not hold a piece of herself back from God,
just in case things don’t work out with this whole “God of Israel” thing.

There is nothing left to give.
Fully and completely she declares her power in her weakness.

Absolute trust in God and the self-giving we see in Jesus’ life and death,
we see prefigured in this tiny, insignificant, extraordinary, beautiful act.

Like the woman with the Alabaster jar,
this woman without a name, this woman who in a pitiable way
gives profoundly, prophetically, extravagantly,
“the widow” has shone down the ages,
the example, the metaphor, the parable of what it is to give fully.
To choose to hold nothing back.

We have the power to make that choice too.

Am I a chicken, or am I a pig?

What does my faith cost me?

Let us in the silence listen for the voice of God.

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