Posts Tagged "Mark 12:38-44"

Robbing Widows

November 11, 2018
By Rev. David French


It’s a rare thing when our culture agrees with Jesus, but one thing we can all agree on is nobody likes a hypocrite. Truth is, Jesus highlights and condemns hypocrisy more often than any other sin, and that’s what we find happening in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is condemning the hypocrites among the scribes.

Today we find Jesus teaching in the temple during holy week which, of course, ends with His crucifixion.  The scribes He’s talking about are the temple scribes.  These are the ones who were actually in charge of copying the Holy Scriptures from one scroll onto another.  And that means they wrote the holy words of God over and over again.  This repetition of course means that they came to know the Scriptures very, very well.  And yet, today Jesus says they use their great knowledge of God’s word to rob widows.

Jesus actually reserved His greatest condemnation for hypocrites because, by definition, hypocrites know better.  Truth is you can’t deceive people concerning what “God says” unless you know at least as much and usually more of what God says than they do.  That means hypocrites know what they are doing is wrong.  They indeed sear their consciences in order to live a lie.

And so, sadly, hypocrites end up lying to themselves more than anyone else.  Someday, every hypocrite will stand before God in judgment, but most people don’t think about that day.  Maybe they just pretend there is no God, and so, no judgment.  Maybe they think that their actions are justified, so God won’t hold them accountable for them.  Maybe they’ve lied so much that they don’t even see their hypocrisy.  But none of that matters, as Jesus says in Matthew, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The really sad thing about the self-deception of hypocrisy is that some would hear a sermon like this and think something like, “You tell’em pastor.  Because we know there are a lot of hypocrites around here who need to hear this.” Of course, the really hard core hypocrite would have no idea that these words include them.

In sermon preparation one of the first things that I as your pastor really must do is preach this sermon to myself.  Why? Because I also regularly engage in hypocrisy.  I lie to myself.  I lie to others.  I even lie to God.  When I hear Jesus condemn hypocrites in our lesson, I need to understand that He is talking to me. I am the one who needs to hear this sermon.

And yes, you also need to hear this sermon.  I mean, honestly, how many times have you been a hypocrite since this service began?  Earlier in this service, you said, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.  But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”

You said to God and each other that you are a miserable sinner.  Did you mean it?  You said you deserved temporal and eternal punishment.  That means that you believe you deserve a miserable life here on earth and to burn in the fires of hell.  Did you really mean it?  Were you really deep in your heart sorry or just kind of half-heartedly sorry about your sin?  Did you sincerely repent or just sort of repent?  How much of this service have you done on auto-pilot while thinking about something else?

What about the life you lead when you’re not here?  When you are alone,does your attitude toward sin change?  Does the Word of God that you hear in this place actually guide the way you live out there? Many people criticize the Church saying it’s full of hypocrites.  And the truth is, an honest examination of our lives in the light of God’s Word will show that’s true; all of us are indeed hypocrites … and murderers and adulterers and thieves.  I have broken every single commandment, and according to God’s Word, so have you.  My friends, know it or not, we are all in desperate need of healing from our sin.  We’re not members of the Church because we’re so good and righteous.  We are members of the Church because we are sinners who know we need to be forgiven.

As we listen to Jesus, we can hear about the source of the forgiveness that we need as we look again at the second part of today’s lesson where we are introduced to a widow who gave all she had.  It’s certainly possible that this woman was one of the victims of the hypocrites that Jesus condemned.  But Jesus does something that only God can do.  He looks into her heart and sees a faith that trusts the promises of God.  For us this widow’s gift is a foreshadowing of the gift that Jesus would give a few days after this incident.  This widow gave all she had financially.  In a few days, Jesus would give all that He had!

Think about it, just as this poor widow offered her whole life at that offering box, so the Holy One who watched her offered His whole life on the cross.  Here is One who was never a hypocrite – who never did anything that deserved condemnation.  Here is One who endured the greatest condemnation as He paid for the sins of the world. 

Because Jesus Christ lived a perfect life that was free of hypocrisy and every other sin, the grave could not hold Him.  Although His friends laid Him in the tomb on Friday, He rose from the dead on Sunday.  Now He lives forever offering all who come to Him credit for that life.  By His death and through His resurrection, He offers to all who trust in Him forgiveness for all our sins, including the sin of hypocrisy.  And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

It is the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God who gives to us the same faith that the poor widow in today’s reading had.  It is as we hear our readings and the preaching of His Word that the Holy Spirit works even as He does through the tangible Word of God that we eat and drink in the sacrament. The faith that the Holy Spirit creates in us receives the gifts that Jesus Christ earned when He offered His life for us.  The faith that the Holy Spirit works in us through Word and Sacrament brings us into the very kingdom of God.  It is in that kingdom of grace that we receive all that Christ offers.

 So yes, the Church is full of hypocrites because the world is full of hypocrites.  But hypocrisy is only one face of the sin that plagues us all.  As sinful human beings, by nature we all want to reject God’s will for us … even if that will is the forgiveness of our sins.  The world doesn’t understand that and so it distorts the true role of the Church, which is to distribute all the blessings of Christ.

My friends, the real difference between the world and the Church is that the Church is full of hypocrites who are forgiven.  It is also full of thieves who are forgiven, liars who are forgiven, murderers who are forgiven, and adulterers who are forgiven.  The Church, our Church, is full of sinners who are forgiven.  The world does not believe in sin and so does not understand forgiveness and therefore simply sees no point to the church.

But a day is coming when every person will leave this world behind.  Those who leave without faith in Jesus Christ will leave on their own merits without forgiveness.  And justly, yes, but also sadly, they will suffer the eternal condemnation that their hypocrisy and other sins have earned and they refused to believe were paid for.  Those who have faith in Jesus, even now, already have forgiveness.  They have put their sin and its condemnation on Jesus and He left it in what we call the empty tomb.  They will enter the eternal joy of heaven.  They will live the eternal peace of Him who gave all that He had, for you His precious child. 


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