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Message for Sunday 7 November 2021: “Spiritual Richness”

Mark 12:38-44 has insights about spiritual wealth. First consider history about a type of religious bureaucrat, a group Jesus singled-out for criticism. Jesus said “[b]eware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces ” (Mark 12:38). A scribe in Jesus’ day was an expert in various legal and Old Testament matters.

Jesus criticized the scribes when he called attention to their bad behavior. Jesus emphasized the scribes’ dress and style as an attempt to obtain social status. Sadly, ministers and priests throughout Christian history have followed in their footsteps. Consider the peculiar habit of Christian officials wearing fancy robes, a practice contradicting what Jesus taught. This situation is just one among many where a simple message of Jesus is ignored, even by people who should know better.

The practice of fancy clothes for Christian officials was borrowed by the early church from the Roman Empire. Secular Roman politicians wore impressive robes that Christian leaders adopted. This legacy continues into modern times as priests and ministers often wear related attire. All this suggests that the Church can be doing the wrong thing in plain sight and people accept it because they are used to something they grew up with and also because folks are reluctant calling attention to certain habits which seem harmless.

Jesus’ outrage doesn’t end with ministers strutting around in velveteen clerical robes. Speaking of the ancient scribes, Jesus also stated that, “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40)). Here Jesus suggests that praying in the wrong way for the wrong reasons results in judgment.

The scribes’ pretense-filled prayers were done to garner social status, for elevating themselves at the expense of a gullible audience. Consider that public prayer never substitutes for private prayer coming from the sincere heart of an individual. All of this suggests that spiritual talk with God is best when it arises from each person’s private expression.

In contrast to the wealthy scribes who were all about self, Jesus praised a destitute widow whom he saw donating at the Jerusalem Temple. All sorts of people were milling about, including many wealthy people who advertised their giving. Then a poor, elderly widow put in two small coins, a mite, worth about penny. As he watched, Jesus said that the woman was rich toward God because she had given all she had. The elderly woman didn’t call attention to herself nor did she seek public praise. Imagine, as she gave her meager coins she was also creating a heavenly reward that earned Jesus’ rare praise.

There’s a great lesson in the example of that poor woman. The idea is that you are spiritually rich when you offer God what you have. Your most valuable gifts are best given whey they are donated for reasons other than public consumption. The silent, anonymous widow who gave her last coins knew she wouldn’t receive public acclaim. Yet God was watching and Jesus singled her out as an example for all of us to follow.

What is God asking you to sacrifice? Is your spirit rich toward God? It is not easy to live a self-sacrificing life. Today’s encounter with the poor woman is a reminder that worldly poverty does not prevent richness toward God. Richness of spirit is a state of mind wherein you crave God’s love and truth more than social status.

All of us are encouraged to be more like that ancient widow, uncomplicated in our devotion and rich in spirit. One of the marvelous ways in which God’s kingdom works is that you get back more than what you have put in. As you give of your time, talent and treasure, God’s miraculous blessings return to you a bounteous spiritual wealth. The sense of completeness and satisfaction from serving God are priceless, above anything you’ll find in a temple treasury.

 

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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