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Sermon by Revd Sabelo Mthimkhulu (Mark 13:1-8)
With a bit of help from the images on the screen, I’d like you to try and picture the Temple in Jesus’ day. If you were to enter through the east gate at the bottom of our picture, you would find yourself in the Court of the Women, so called because although women and men used the area, women could proceed no further. The next picture gives us some idea of the interior of the court.
The third image displays the roofed section along the sides of this court. It was in this roofed area that a series of 13 collection boxes were placed. They were nothing at all like our discreet wooden boxes placed in the front during offertory. These collection boxes were essentially big conical shaped drums with a narrow neck (so people couldn’t put their hands too far in) and a wide base to collect all that money. Each of the trumpets (as they were called) was for a different collection – the required tithe, a collection for sin offerings, a collection for wood to be used in burnt sacrifices and so on.
The Gospel we have just read follows a series of events taking place in the temple.
Among them is Jesus teachings against the people in authority, the scribes, the teachers of law and the tax collectors(which we read about last week). Jesus teaches his disciples to “Watch out for the teachers of the law, who wear long robes and seat in most important seats in the synagogues because the devour widows”
This is not just a metaphor by the way. When someone died, they would swoop in and help “manage” the deceased person’s estate. These matters were too heavy to be left to women, after all. Naturally, they would charge a fee for this “service.” They ate up the houses of widows.
Immediately these words of Jesus follow a story of the poor widow who offered all she had to live on to the temple.
Jesus’ seats down watching many rich people throwing in large amounts of money into the temple treasury.
“Did everyone notice me giving?”
And there comes a poor widow, putting only two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
They worth nothing to the Temple, but they are everything she has; all that she had left to live on, says Jesus. In fact the right translation would say “her whole life.” She gives away her whole life.
I think we are meant to draw connections on Jesus’ teachings against scribes who devour widows’ houses and this story of the poor widow.
The story of the poor widow is often used in our churches to encourage giving.
But if we were to connect it to Jesus’ teaching about the scribes and his predictions on the falling of the temple (which is the setting for today’s gospel reading).
We will note that this widow is not just simply a faithful giver; she is also a victim of the oppressive practices of the scribes. The reason she is poor is because of the scribes who devour her house.
So in today’s gospel reading, Mark presents to us Jesus leaving the Temple and one of his disciples said to him: Look Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings! “Do you see these great buildings?” Jesus asked. “Not one stone here will be left standing; every stone will be thrown down”
The temple, like many religious systems, was set up with good things in mind. But, again like many religious systems, it had become corrupt and was used to extract as much money as possible.
Every devout Jew was meant to visit the temple during key festivals, like Passover, and when they did, they were expected to pay tithes and make offerings. Then, instead of using the income of the temple to support the needy (like the poor widow), the temple priests were often tempted to use the temple income to become rich.
The law instructed over and over again that good Jews were supposed to protect the vulnerable in society. But this wasn’t happening. And so, Jesus does two things.
Firstly, he draws attention to the widow and then, in today’s gospel reading , he warns that the temple will come tumbling down. Not one stone will be left on another. And I think he means not only the temple building, but the whole corrupt system.
So, here Jesus doesn’t just predict the falling of the beautiful building, but he predicts the falling of this whole oppressive patriarchal system,
The falling of the system that extracts from the poor for the benefit of the elite.
Like Hannah in our first reading whose became insignificant in the temple just because
She could not bear children; the poor widow is also viewed insignificant.
Yes, Hannah’s dignity might have been restored
After giving birth to Samuel
But does she really need a male child to validate her humanity
Does God liberate her from the system
That sees nothing in her but instrument of procreation.
I wonder if Jesus is not saying to us this morning
This too shall fall.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, when we feel utterly faithless, despairing; when we think there is no more to do; it is precisely then that we may be more Christ-like than those who show off their fancy stuff, their fancy clothes, cars or their fancy religion. That magnificent building, that whole Temple system no longer exists. It’s all come tumbling down. But one small, poor, despairing widow lives on, speaks to us across the centuries.
One small, infertile, marginalised woman lives on, speaks to us across centuries.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly
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