November 18, 2018 Hope Lutheran Church Riverside, CA
The end is coming. Finally. Oh, not the end from Daniel or the guy on the street corner shouting, I was speaking of the end of the Lectionary year. Our Lectionary year begins on 1 Advent, and we are nearly to the end of Mark for the year. I also notice, we are on a new “chapter” this Sunday, so let’s take a moment and center our reading with a few “Bible Fun Facts.” First, let’s get rid of all the punctuation; no periods, no comma’s, no exclamation points. Run it all together and throw out any indicators of beginning of a sentence, such as capital letters, too. Ok, now we are working with something much closer to original Koine Greek.
Next, we need to look at the structure of the book of Mark, which was not in chapters like we have before us now. Mark is a chiastic structure, which in essence meant to be a circular reading, it loops back on itself. Within that loop, there are 5 narratives that tie a portrait of Jesus together: The wilderness- (Jesus Suffering and humanity), Galilee (the miracles), The Way (announced as messiah), Jerusalem (the sacrifice), and the tomb (death and resurrection). The punctuation, paragraphs, and even chapters are all added to the original text to make it easier for us to read. Just one more reason we believe in a living word, that is translated and understood through the Holy Spirit, because humans get in the way of the story sometimes and even our best attempts to share it can muck it up.
This is important set up this week because in our efforts to break the text of Mark apart to make it easier to manage and read, we did something wrong. We erased the widow’s story. We cannot separate the story of the widow’s mite from the stones of the temple being decimated. They go together and putting the chapter 8 beginning where it is, we erase the story of the widow as though it has nothing to do with the temple or Jesus declaration of it’s destruction.
Last week we pointed out the exploitation of the widow and the poor. It should not have happened and as usual, the disciples don’t hear Jesus the first time. I wonder if they even took the time to pity the woman, to correct the situation at all. I doubt it. Because here they are, healthy men with access to money, education, and more, leaving the temple and one of the disciples, comments on the amazing grandeur of the temple. The temple which Jesus had just pointed out was built through the corruption and exploitation of the poor. Sure, a gorgeous place everyone wants to be- but at what cost? The cost of leaving the poor who have nothing to offer outside? The women who are bleeding, the eunuch, the sick, all unwelcome? What kind of place is this that is built on the backs of the unwelcome and silenced voices? What kind of place is this that is built to keep the ones who most need help, comfort, and access to hope out? Apparently the temple that awes the ones who have access and are not kept out, who can easily be there, and enjoy its wonder and beauty.
And Jesus has good news for the widow. This temple is going down. The places and systems built by human greed and selfishness will be decimated. The work of the wealthy, educated, privileged few will be undone- every single aspect of it; The systems that expected the widow to give all she had, but not the wealthy to do so; the systems that kept out the precious children of God who are in need, who live in fear of being welcomed or even allowed to be seen will be torn apart. The good news to the widow is that this pain we are in, the pain she suffers of hunger and fear is only the beginning of the process that will give new life and hope to the world.
I spent this past week in El Paso, Juarez, and Anapra. I saw the systems in place that keep the poor in poverty, the sick in illness, the hopeless despairing. I heard stories of those seeking entrance to a place of hope and health, but they were too poor to get in. They had the wrong skin color, were born of the wrong place, were like a carpenter’s son and deemed worthless, because what good can come from Honduras, or Guatemala, or Nazareth. I saw tears over separated families, fleeing violence and starvation, who follow the rules and must wait over 20 years to be “next” in line because their country of origin is “unwanted.” I heard of young people held in cells with no room to lay down for days on end because they applied for asylum as they ran for their life. And I heard from agents who are desperate to make sense of this in their heads as they cage up people whose only crimes are existence and desire to live.
Imagine the widow asking for help of the temple leaders and in response, being jailed to “wait” for their answer. It is not just our country doing this, not just a caravan now, or a city of people waiting their 20 years- but entire nations of people starving, hoping, and wishing for more- for a chance to just live, let alone thrive. Entire nations are the systems of oppression- the ones who buy cheap clothes made in sweatshops, drink coffee harvested in slave conditions, shoot because of skin color or who someone loves, and eats out of season fruit grown in deforested areas, all in the name of protecting their “piece of the pie” rather than finding a way to share it.
These are the systems that will be torn apart in the end times, that are huge, and seemingly impossible to tear apart.
Nearly every one of us is an immigrant or birthed from one. Each of us carry a history of fleeing for freedom and hope in our DNA, whether as pilgrims seeking freedom to worship without risk of death, from hunger and starvation from our fjords or potato famines, from slavery to free status, we are the ones who have been welcomed and given new hope and it is time to offer it in return. On my own, I don’t know how to fix our immigration and asylum systems, let alone those of every other nation with similar ones. I don’t know how to fix the deep and disturbing racism and classism of our nation, let alone any other. I don’t know how to make it safe for people to just live and love in any place without being shot at in worship or while dancing. But Jesus does. And he gives us good news.
This is the beginning birth pains. It is going to be horrific. It is going to be a struggle. We will either be the ones feeling ripped in two in the birth, or we will stand by, helpless as another in front of us struggles. It will be hard and horrible. Birthing pains are. But there is good news. We are invited to be midwives of the birthing. We are invited to be part of the help, the comfort, the assistance, the ones who bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the world. There is joy at the end of this- there is life and hope coming. It will be work to get there. It will be hard, humanity will cry out in pain and the Holy Spirit will be our comfort, our deepest joy in the midst of pain.
We are invited into this labor, my siblings in Christ. We are invited to comfort the afflicted, to care for the poor, the hungry, the sick. We are invited to give thanks and rejoice by sharing the comfort we have been granted. In Jesus Christ, we have been granted both the savior who will topple the dividing and life- sucking systems and who will give us breath, light, and joy as we labor with him. It is our good news, to be the ones who look to the widow and put her coins back in her hand ten-fold, who invite her into the temple to worship, and then home with us to eat as part of our family- born anew in our baptismal promise.
Welcome to labor, the end is coming and we shall know true joy, true comfort, true salvation in our saviour, Jesus Christ.