The town I used to live in had a very large church attended by a lot of people. I am being vague on purpose here. This was the church in town. There was something every day of the week going on at that church. There were groups for every age and every walk of life. Their pastor was known not only throughout the state, but nationally as well. He had been interviewed on several news shows to give his “Gospel” opinion about various political issues. The time had come that this church was growing so much it needed to build an entirely new sanctuary. I don’t know why they couldn’t expand their current sanctuary, but that’s neither here nor there. After some research, they decided to not only build a new sanctuary, but an entirely new church. Well, this was the talk of the town. They drew up plans, got bids, and the final total needed for this new church was going to be something obnoxious like $7 million.
The first Sunday that the leadership approached the congregation about this new building and the funds needed, they received half of the money. They got half the money they needed the very first Sunday!! And where, oh where were they going to build this amazing new church? On a lovely piece of land they had already secured. And it was located right across from a city park. It was the city park where the homeless people of the town slept. Now, that’s not to say that this church didn’t do outreach, but I just got so frustrated thinking about how much they could have accomplished had they scaled their plans down, even just a little bit.
Often we hear today’s reading and might interpret it as a stewardship lesson. It’s a reading lifting up the poor widow and putting a shining light on her, right? Look at this woman, she gave all she could…why aren’t you?? That is not what this reading is about (so you can relax). In some ways, it is about stewardship. But, it’s not about stewardship in the traditional sense that you may think. Because this isn’t about money, but about care for this widow. Stewardship isn’t just about money. It’s about how we leverage the gifts, power, and privilege that God has given to us. This story today is actually kind of a older version of what we now call “keeping up with the Jones’.”
The scribes had put on a great show. They were all putting in large sums of money, wearing their fancy clothes, sitting in the highest of places. They were braggadocious. Whether they knew it or not, the scribes were shaming the widow. See, the scribes had contributed to a system, actually they had built the system, that made them rich and made her poor. They built systems that oppressed. They built systems that made sure that they got ahead and that they were made to look powerful. The scribes thought that this was part of Levitical law. They thought that these systems in place were God’s will. And boy, were they wrong. They had built up these systems not to praise God, but only for the glory of themselves.
These systems were in place and instead of caring for the widow or providing for her, they shamed her into giving all that she had. Instead of the woman being lauded for giving all she had, she should be pitied for being forced to live in a system that constantly oppresses her. This woman gave all that she had, insuring that she would go without food or other necessities for days. In fact, Jesus tells us, she put in “all she had to live on.” These systems are still in place today.
We have systems in this country that oppresses people, whether they were built that way or not. I believe that in this country we don’t have broken people, we have broken systems. We are one of the wealthiest nations in the country and yet, there are people who go without food, go without medicine, and go without the needed care they so desperately desire. And, contrary to what the media may have you believe, these are people just like you and me. These are our Veterans. These are our retirees. These are our neighbors. These are our friends. These are people who are just one or two paychecks away from being without a home, or insurance, or food. There is no reason, absolutely no reason, why anyone who lives in this country should have to choose between keeping the lights on or buying medicine. It is completely assign that this happens. We shouldn’t have elderly shut ins that eat cat food. We shouldn’t have Veterans that live under the south bridge. We shouldn’t have a homeless student coordinator in any of our school districts. But we do, because we have broken systems. I want to make sure you hear me: people are not broken, the systems are.
And we have the power to fix these broken systems. We can vote. We can advocate. We can protest. We can choose where and how we spend our money. We can participate in outreach. I know it can feel overwhelming because the systems seem so large and we are but one or two people. And if nothing else, we can lend our voice. We can shut down the naysayers when they start in on the harmful rhetoric that continues to victimize those who don’t really want to be in the positions they are in. You most likely have never met anyone whose life goal was to be homeless.
What can also give us hope is that God sees this all. God sees our suffering and God sees our pain. God built structures so that we would be equal and human hands cancelled that out. There are few places in this world where we see God’s equality. It is at the font and at the table. We can also hold on to the hope that this world will not be like this forever. When Jesus returns, the systems that oppress will be demolished. The people that oppress will have to answer for their actions. God’s will and God’s way will become perfectly clear. But for now what we have is this: water. This is the place we all come to be reminded that no matter what may keep us down, we belong to God. We belong to God and God’s redeeming word and love is stronger than anything or anyone that may oppress.