Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 27)

Text: Mark 12:41-42
As Jesus sat near the Temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich men dropped in a lot of money; then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny.

When ordinary is extraordinary

There have been many times when I've listened to an obituary at a funeral of someone whom I have come to know only in their later years and found out so much more about the person that I had never known before.  I am led to marvel at the amazing ways that person has used his/her abilities and touched the lives of many people within that person’s family, the church, the community and even overseas.  The person has left a legacy of love serving as a missionary, a teacher, nurse or simply helping wherever possible.  All this I would never have guessed from the very humble and unassuming person I had come to know in their retiring years.

This was written in a newspaper editorial commenting on the funeral of one of the town’s residents.
“The reason so many people lined up behind the hearse that held the kind old man's mortality was simple: they loved him.  He devoted his life to helping people.  In a simple way, without money or worldly power, he gave of the gentleness of his heart to all around him.  We are apt to say that money talks, but it speaks a broken, poverty-stricken language.  Hearts talk better, clearer, and with a wider intelligence.  This old man with the soft voice and the kindly manners knew the language of the heart and when he spoke he did so with encouragement and joy.  He was infinitely patient and brave.  He held a simple, old-fashioned faith in God and his loving-kindness.
When others gave money - which was of their store - he gave prayers and hard work and an inspiring courage.  He helped.  In his sphere he was a power”
(The Gazette).

The old man didn’t have any titles or wealth or great knowledge.  He was just an ordinary bloke who lived a very ordinary life but had the extraordinary ability to allow God's love to reach out to others through him.  In this way he was able to be an inspiration and an encouragement to the people in his town.  Most likely he didn’t even know he was having this effect on people’s lives as he went about his ordinary everyday life being an old man with a soft voice, a kind heart, having something encouraging to say, helpful, gentle and yet bold and with an old-fashioned faith in God.  

Think about the people who have had a profound influence on your life and I would guess that there wouldn’t be too many prime ministers or millionaires or royals or famous people among them.  For most of us, it has been ordinary people who have had the greatest impact on shaping our lives and moulding us into the people we are today.  Ordinary people like our mums and dads, our grandparents, a teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a special friend, an uncle or aunt. 

Some of the people around you might have been very ordinary when it came to material possessions but in spite of this they weren’t ordinary in your eyes. To you they were and are still special.  They are extraordinary your eyes because they gave themselves to you unselfishly and sacrificially.  They have loved you, guided you, encouraged you, helped you and boldly and lovingly told you when you were going down the wrong track. 

They have shown their hearts to you and you have seen their pain when you have disappointed them and their joy when you made them proud.  And you have responded to this love and recognised that here are people who really love you and are concerned about what happens in your life.   You see in these people the kind of love that doesn’t count the cost and doesn’t give up and is reckless in the way that it will do anything for you. 

We see this kind of reckless love in a father, an ordinary man by all human reasoning, no tickets on himself, no titles or great wealth, in fact, will be embarrassed that I am even mentioning him today, putting his own health and life at risk to give his daughter a kidney so that she could have a better life.  An ordinary person, letting love take control, and trusting God for the outcome.

That’s what Jesus observed that day in the temple when he saw a widow enter the Temple.  If there was an ordinary person in the society in which Jesus lived it was a widow.  She had no standing in the community because she had no husband.  No voice in community affairs.  No income.  She approached the place where the offerings are collected and she drops in two small copper coins – the smallest amount possible. Really the money she gave was nothing compared to the bags of money that the wealthy worshippers were loudly dropping into the offering bowls.

It would have been easy to overlook this woman in amongst that crowd of prominent people, making quite a show of how much they were giving.  Others might see her as ordinary but Jesus doesn't.  He sees things differently.  He sees the underlying motive behind her action.  He sees what makes this somewhat ordinary person, someone far more important than all the others in the temple who were giving bags of money.  He says, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others.  For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had – she gave all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).

He is saying that woman might look ordinary but her actions show quite the opposite.  She had no idea where her next meal was coming from.  She probably will have to beg, a most humiliating thing to have to do.  In fact, the widow has been quite reckless in her giving.  She has thrown logic and reason out the window.  This was crazy; some would call it stupid.  She gave only two small coins worth very little but she gave all she had.  She gave away her next meal. Jesus points out that this ordinary woman is quite extraordinary and is to be commended for her commitment and love and faith in God's goodness.

What we are saying here about a seemingly ordinary person doing extraordinary things could well be a description of Jesus himself.  In fact, this event happens after Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  In other words, he is in the temple during Holy Week just days before Good Friday.  This very ordinary man who caused such a fuss in the temple is arrested and put on trial and brutally treated and nailed to a cross and, not unlike the widow, commits everything he has to his Father and risks everything as he sacrificially gives himself as a ransom for all people.

This very ordinary man who many people ignored, who many considered too insignificant to be bothered with, who was laughed at by others, in actual fact had an amazing love for them all and an extraordinary commitment to bring forgiveness and peace into their lives even though it meant hardship and sacrifice and suffering for him personally.  He gave everything he had to give for you and me.

We see others take the risk and often pay the ultimate price giving up everything because of their love for Jesus and their commitment to serving him that led changed lives for some and hardship for others.

We hear of Stephen early in the Book of Acts who speaks clearly to the Jewish Council about the fulfilment of God's plan of salvation in Jesus whom they killed.  He knew how dangerous it was to speak this way but he risked everything.  He was dragged out of the city and stoned to death.

We hear of Peter and Paul and how they were imprisoned and the hardships they endured.  They could have taken an easier path so that following Jesus involved less hardship, was less risky and demanded less of them.  But they preferred the attitude of the widow and that of Jesus of going all the way – risking everything, daring to face whatever challenges their opposition put in their way even if it meant putting their life on the line. 

We sometimes use the phrase “everything in moderation” – meaning don’t get too carried away.  This is fine in certain circumstances but is completely out of place in others and this is one of those times when it’s not appropriate as much as we like it to apply to the concepts of commitment and discipleship.  If the widow had reasoned as she was about to drop the coins into the offering bowls “everything in moderation” would she have given everything she had?  Or if Jesus had said, “Everything in moderation” as he entered Jerusalem, would he have endured all that he did? 

When Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself.  You must take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) there is no hint of ‘everything in moderation’.  We like moderation because that makes things easier but Jesus doesn’t allow us that luxury as he commends the widow, “she, poor as she is, put in all she had—she gave all she had to live on.”

As with all Jesus’ sayings about discipleship, this is a hard text.  How can we offer that kind of selfless, sacrificial, risking everything commitment?  Some people can do it and we see example of this in history and every now and then in our world today, but they seem few and far between.  Often they were in extraordinary times and places and seemed to be given extraordinary strength to meet the demanding situation.  An example is Elizabeth of Hungary who died on November 17th 1231.  She was born a princess and wealthy. She became a follower of St Francis of Assisi and gave away all her wealth to the poor.  She opened hospitals and worked long hours looking after the sick and feeding the poor.  Undernourished and overworked she succumbed to sickness and died at the age of 24.  Like the widow in the gospel, she gave everything that she had.

As I said this is a hard text.  Not all of us can be an Elizabeth of Hungary, or a Mother Theresa or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer but we are called as ordinary people to be God's extraordinary people in our world today in whatever way we can using the abilities and resources that he has given us.  We will struggle with this.  We will struggle with our self-centredness, our selfishness, and our lack of concern for others.  We will struggle with wanting to do “everything in moderation”.  We will repent of our failure again and again.

Thankfully Jesus went all the way for us.  He went to the cross just for those times when we settle for mediocrity and giving less than everything we have.  He died to forgive us and renew us and give us a fresh start and as many fresh starts as we need because he knows that we will always struggle with being who he has called us to be. We praise God for his reckless, sacrificial, selfless, generosity shown to us in his Son, Jesus.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
11th November 2012

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