I remember a cartoon I once saw as a kid. It was a single panel image of a congregation on Sunday morning. The door was open in the narthex. People were streaming in. The church was filled with vibrant activity. Ushers were handing out bulletins. People were greeting one another. The pews were filling up. At the bottom of the image was the caption, “A dying church.”

For me, it was like one of those seek and find puzzles. I needed to search the picture to find out why the church was dying. After looking for some time, I suddenly saw it. In the corner of the church was a box labeled “charity.” There was a slot at the top into which people could put their donations. A spider had built a cobweb over the slot. The cartoonist was calling attention to one way in which churches die, not by losing members, but by losing love.

Something similar happens in our reading this morning. Mark offers us a vision of the Temple. If you look closely, you will see death and then, if you continue looking, you will see life.

As the reading begins, Jesus opens the eyes of His disciples to death. It does not necessarily look like death, however. The scene is filled by the scribes, those who study the Word of God. We know from the psalms that those who meditate on God’s Word are blessed and Jesus is pointing out to us people who meditate on God’s Word. They fill the picture. The scribes are walking around in long robes, being greeted in the marketplaces, attending synagogue, and sitting at feasts. They say long prayers to display the depth of their piety and the breadth of their learning.

As Jesus describes all this activity, however, He asks us not to look at their actions but at their heart. Even though they read the Word of God, their delight is not in the ways of God. They delight in recognition but, ironically, fail to recognize the cost. When attention is focused on the greatest, suffering can happen unnoticed among the least. When attention is focused on feasting, it can divert attention away from what is being eaten, the poor. Jesus tells us these scribes “devour widows’ houses.” Those God has called Israel to care for, to feed and to clothe, are treated carelessly. It is not just that their needs are being ignored. They are actually being used. The glory of the scribes comes at the humiliation of the poor.

After describing this dying church to His disciples, Jesus then does the strangest thing. He sits down and observes the Temple. He calls His disciples over and asks them to look. What do they see? Jesus points out a widow who makes an offering: Two small coins. In total, a penny. Most people would not even bother picking up a penny off the ground. But Jesus sees a widow who gives it to the church. For the disciples, her gift is virtually nothing. For God, however, it is a symbol of everything. Jesus, who can read the heart, knows her gift is a revelation of grace.

For the disciples, her gift is virtually nothing. For God, however, it’s a symbol of everything.

Jesus tells the disciples that this widow, “...out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” With these words, Jesus asks the disciples to see a different kind of dying. Not a dying church but a dying person, a person who in dying gives life.

This poor widow is a reflection of Jesus. Faced with a church that is corrupt, a church that devours widows’ houses, she gives her life, to that church. In just a few days, Jesus will be doing the same.

Jesus came to a church which had lost its focus. Though it read the Word of God, it did not hear it. It had lost the love of God. Though the charity box still stood in the narthex, it was empty, and the opening was closed. Into a place without grace, to a people without love, God the Father sent His son Jesus. He sent Him to love. By giving His life to these people, Jesus was killed. They devoured Him. Yet, in that devouring, they gave the world its first taste of love: Saving love. It is a love which gives all for all that all might be saved.

Jesus sat outside the Temple that day and saw this widow, giving all. He then pointed it out to His disciples. I wonder if they remembered. When Jesus hung on the cross, giving all for a church that was corrupt, I wonder if the disciples remembered this widow’s gift.

I know we do. In His death, Jesus has done the ultimate act of charity. He has given His life for all. Because of His sacrifice, God forgives you. He raises you to new life, not a life of recognition but a life of selfless service. Forgiven by God, you are given by God to a world that is dying, awaiting the moment when it awakens to love.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 12:38-44.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 12:38-44.