One of the reasons I wear my poppy year after year leading up to Remembrance Day, is to remind myself that freedom has a cost.
And that cost is not just ‘a drop in the bucket,’ spare change for which I reach into my deep pockets that doesn’t really make any difference in my life to do without. So, I throw them at some otherwise good cause. And feel smug.
In the Greek language in which the Gospel text from Markis originally written, we read that what the widow cast in the temple treasury was her bios. Her bios — meaning, literally, her very life. This text “invites us to imagine not two copper coins going into the treasury, but the very body and soul of the widow; her bios falling into the treasury.”Freedom is not cheap. Freedom demands a whole lot of giving. Whatever good we see at the end of it all calls forth our very life.
Then, the punch to the gut. If we read on into the next chapter of Mark, Jesus says that this temple in Jerusalem—to and for which all those people were making donations—will soon be destroyed.Throughout the Gospels, we know the temple and its culture was corrupt. Jesus had criticized, even became angry against, what was going on inside. In a fit of rage he had upturned the money changers’ tables in the temple. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” He cried, outraged. Such behaviour from Jesus incited a condemning response from temple authorities, precipitating plans to have him silenced. The conflict between Jesus and the temple was well documented. And soon, Jesus would have the last word, promising that this building will be “thrown down.”
And Jesus is not just talking spiritually, here, referring merely to his body. His word was actually fulfilled: During the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Roman armies destroyed the temple.
The juxtaposition of these texts is not without purpose, its meaning dare not be ignored. The structure of the narrative strongly suggests that the widow gives all she has to an institution that is going to be utterly destroyed.
According to Jesus, the widow gave more of her life than the rich people because she gave “out of her poverty”.I think this is the key to understanding what Jesus is really getting at by drawing our attention to the widow’s gift.
She gave out of her poverty. I suspect we associate the freedom won on the battlefields with freedom to seek after material prosperity and amass financial wealth. In other words, we attribute freedom with permission in this land to become rich if we can.
The freedom of which the bible speaks, however, is not a freedom to invest, but to divest; where power and privilege divests itself in weakness which the world considers “foolish”. Remember Paul’s words from Corinthians: God made foolish the wisdom of the world.
The widow gives her all, her bios, not for the temple treasury, not for the sake of the institution, not to build and maintain the stones, the bricks, the mortar, the properties, the buildings, the skyscrapers and the material wealth of church and society. Not for building an empire under the guise of ‘freedom.’ The giving of the faithful is not for these things.
Rather, the widow gives her all, her bios, for her neighbour. For the sake of relationship—relationship with the poverty within her own soul, relationship with the poverty in her neighbours, and relationship with the poverty of God: Christ crucified.
The placement of these stories in the Gospel narrative is significant, because even this story—often interpreted solely about stewardship and ironically giving money to upkeep an institution that is dying or will die—ultimately points to Jesus Christ, on the cross.
The widow, like Jesus, gives her life for that which is going down. The widow, like Jesus, gives her life for that which is imperfect and corrupt. The widow, like Jesus, gives her life for what we might regard as foolish, unproductive and a waste, to that which is undeserving.
She gives her life for us, trusting in a resurrection that will rise out of the ashes of her divestment, out of her poverty.
The cost for freedom does not happen when we go to church. We don’t do good by coming to church. The service women and men who risked it all, and as such modelled for us a self-giving that is truly remarkable, didn’t do it in church. But, rather, on the battlefield of life. We do good by going out from the doors of the church into the world, for the sake of the Gospel. And for the love of the God, in Christ, who gave all, for us—corrupted, broken, sinful, weak, sometimes useless people. Can we do in like for others, out there?
This year, 2018, is significant for the Canadian Armed Forces for several reasons, including the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. And, as such, the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day on November 11th observed every year since.
According to Veterans’ Affairs Canada, since Confederation in 1867, approximately 2.3 million Canadians have served in uniform, and more than 118,000 have given their lives.
As people of faith, not only do we this day thank our brave men and women who have served Canada at home and abroad, we also express our thanks to and support efforts to walk with and help our veterans after they complete their service.
We may not be aware of the plight of many veterans, trying to live, trying to survive, in this very city of Ottawa. In the attached video link, see and hear what Multifaith Housing Initiative Ottawa is doing to provide affordable and safe housing for dozens of homeless veterans. The new project, planned for the grounds on the old Rockcliffe Airforce Base, is called, “Veteran’s House.” The desire, here, is to serve those who have served us.
The task is ours to practise the gift first given to us in Christ, the gift of grace and mercy that is the way of freedom.
Professor Allen Jorgenson, Martin Luther University College in Waterloo, writes in his bible study on this text given at the 2018 Eastern Synod Assembly, Mississauga.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31