Assume positive intent, thoughtful people advise, when reading emails. It’s hard to understand someone’s tone of voice from the words on the screen. Even when – or especially when – we know them well. Perhaps it’s hardest with someone we know, or think we know. We add the weight of all our previous interactions to this new one.
When the scribe comes to ask Jesus a question, we can read the words, and we don’t know the tone of the question. Is he genuinely curious? Ready to spar verbally? Trying to make a point? If we assume positive intent, we can imagine him as genuinely curious, as Jesus seems to do.
Read the Working Preacher commentary here.
This section of verses gives us two stories: Jesus interacting face to face with the scribe, and then Jesus using the widow as a lesson. The contrast between the two are interesting to think about: a person with a place in the religious establishment, and someone on the edge. Jesus praises the scribe’s understanding, and it’s hard to tell whether he’s praising the widow, or grieving her situation. I was raised on the idea that the widow was a laudable example, and she is the central figure in countless stewardship sermons. Now I wonder if Jesus is lamenting the system that keeps her poor. He has just criticized the people who devour the widows’ houses. Is she a further example of the things that are far from the kingdom of God?
Thousands of people around us will soon be like the widow, on the edge financially. Anyone who works in a restaurant, bar, theater or retail store is having hours cut, or the job eliminated. People who had jobs on Friday are unexpectedly unemployed today. The sermon might look at how we can learn to see people like the widow, and how we can attend to their growing needs.
As we’re all working from home (if we’re fortunate enough to still be working) we’ll be meeting by email, Zoom and Google Hangout. We won’t have the usual cues to each other’s thoughts. How do we assume the best about each other, the way Jesus does with the individual scribe?
And how do we sort out one individual from a group of people we’re accustomed to mis-trusting. Jesus manages to have a conversation with one individual scribe, and also complain about the system they promote. He can hold the person separate from the group in a way that’s an effort for many of us. The sermon might explore how we can follow his example in this.
In a different Working Preacher commentary, Dr. Emerson Powery says, “This was a story about an agreement — between Jesus, Mark’s lead protagonist, and a scribe, a group member of Jesus’ leading archenemies…Stories like this one, rare as they are within the Christian canon, must drive us to become more willing to open up to the other, including the faithful people within our own religious tradition and those without. With Jesus, at the least, may we be able to admit that these people of faith are also “not far from the kingdom.” Can we go beyond Jesus and discover in our fellow companions of faith people who are “in” the “kingdom,” that is, they, too, have religious commitments that allow them to share in God’s love for the world.” The sermon might explore this question, especially in a time when we’re all sharing hardship together. All of us are coping the best we can.
Whether you’re preaching by Zoom this week, or on You Tube, or sharing services with a neighbor congregation, we would love to hear where your thoughts are going. Share your ideas, or your own laments, in the comments section below.
Mary Austin is the Senior Pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, where the members come from over 30 countries. She is a contributor to The Road to Hallelujah and is the author of Meeting God at the Mall.
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