This week’s RCL readings, especially the Gospel, provide a challenge to preachers. Many of us are deep in the season of stewardship campaigns, and we are presented with a story that is often held up as a model of sacrificial giving: the widow who places two mites, “all that she had to live on,” into the temple treasury. I’ve heard this story used in stewardship campaigns to
encourage generosity, giving beyond what we think we can do, and I understand that impulse. But if we engage the text critically, we might see something else going on. More than lauding the widow’s behavior, Jesus is providing a sharp critique of the behavior of the scribes who demand honor for themselves even as they call for sacrifice from the lowest of the low (remember that widows were often left without any real financial resources.)
Should we use the widow as a model for stewardship? Or might we be bold enough to challenge our congregations to consider instead how we are like the scribes, seeking honor for ourselves, enjoying our affluence, all the while holding up the ideal of sacrifice? It’s a hard sell and it makes us all – preachers and listeners alike – uncomfortable. Even more challenging (and in some contexts, too political) , perhaps, would be to extend Jesus’ critique to the increasing gap between the richest and poorest among us, and the way the system penalizes the poor to reward the rich.
Another preaching option is the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. It’s too bad that, because of All Saints’ Day,
many of us missed the first part of this wonderful story, but preachers who choose this text can fill in the missing details. This multilayered narrative provides a number of preaching opportunities: highlighting women’s voices, so seldom heard in the scripture, and women’s resourcefulness even in a patriarchal culture; setting up the genealogy of Jesus, including a Moabite (a foreigner) as David’s great-grandmother, as we approach Advent; or considering the simple loyalty of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi, the powerful bond between them, their extraordinary care for one another in hard times, and their experience of God throughout.
So where are you headed this week, preachers? November is a transitional month as we finish up the season of Pentecost and prepare for Advent. Are you preaching stewardship? Doing a preaching or teaching series? Are these readings calling you or presenting you with particular challenges? We’re here to support one another.
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