The Heart of the Matter
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The British Comedy group Monty Python gets to the heart of the matter in their satirical movie Life of Brian. The movie takes place in Judea during the time of Jesus. Brian is a man born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus who gets mistaken for the messiah. In one particular scene a group of Jewish radicals, who would probably have been part of the sect known as the Zealots, have gathered together to hatch a plan to overthrow the Roman provincial governor Pontius Pilate. Their plan is to kidnap Pontius Pilate’s wife, and threaten to kill her, unless Pilate gives into their demands and dismantles the Roman State which has oppressed the Jewish people for generations.
The group of Jewish rebels agree that this plan to blackmail Pilate will clearly solve all their problems overnight. The leader of the group complains about the Romans take everything their people own. Then he asks the rhetorical question, “What have the Romans ever given us in return?” Surprising someone in the crowd responds to this rhetorical question by raising his hand and saying, “the aqueduct”( an ancient form of pluming). The leader admits that indeed the Romans gave them the aqueduct. Then some adds roads. Then someone adds sanitation. And another adds irrigation. And another adds public baths. And another adds order and security. The ring leader admits that all these points are true but besides all these great public services that they take for granted what did the Romans ever do for them?” It’s funny because it gets to the heart of the matter. All of us complain about taxes and government. But we also benefit from the services the government provides.
Jesus is like a good comedian. He likes to get to the heart of the matter. Though, unlike a good comedian his message is more often convicting than funny. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter today by pointing out the poor widow who gives away her last penny, or as older translations would say her last mite. And while this passage is often used during stewardship season to encourage church members to give more that really isn’t what this passage was originally about. That reading of this passage doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is in fact good news for us today
The Good News Today is this. When we love ourselves we will give our hearts to God and our love to our neighbors.
But to understand the good news that this widow has for us today we need to understand two things.
- Why the scribes ignored the widow
- Why the widow gives away her last mite.
First, we have to understand why the scribes ignored the widow. But to do that we have to understand that Mark places this story in a specific time and place. This story takes place in the Herod’s Temple, the center of the Hebrew religion at the time. And to understand how Jesus got to the point of pointing out this widow we have to understand how Jesus entered the temple in the first place.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He didn’t tell anyone he was coming. There was no social media marketing campaign. And yet word got out that the messiah was in town, and he entered Jerusalem, to the praises of the crowds, who laid down palm branches before him, for they thought him to be the promised messiah, the one who would deliver Israel from its political enemies. But unlike the Jewish Zealots in the Monty Python skit, Jesus’ first act isn’t to hatch a plot to kidnap Pontius Pilate’s wife and threaten to kill her if he didn’t get what he wants, his first act is to go to his own people’s center of spirituality and power and overturn the money changers in the Temple. He tells his people the reason he is doing this is because the Lord said, “ My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nation but you have made it into a den of robbers.” This radical act seals Jesus fate. He sets a series of events in motion that will result in him being crucified. But it won’t be before the appointed time. Jesus laid down his life for us no one could take it from him. But people surely tried to take it from him before his time. After he turned over the money changers tables different groups come to him with questions meant to trap him and get him in trouble. They ask him questions about politics, theology, and scripture. Though their questions are dishonest Jesus answers their questions honestly, with answer that amaze everyone. He had the ability to get to the truth. He had the ability to get to the heart of the matter.
Then a scribe comes to Jesus. He has been listening to these conversations and is amazed by Jesus’ wisdom. The scribe fulfilled an important role in society. Jesus lived in a time a thousands years before the invention of word processors, auto correct, or even the printing press. So if you wanted a book you needed a scribe to copy it by hand. This scribe doesn’t seem to be trying to trap Jesus. Instead he is genuinely impressed by his wisdom and understanding. So he asks Jesus, “ Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered him, “ The most important is, “Hear o Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe replied, that Jesus had hit the nail on the head, he had summed up all the laws of the Bible in two simple commands. Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely so he said to the scribe, “ You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus did not question the scribe’s intentions. He knew that the scribe came to him with an honest heart. He was not far from the Kingdom of God. Mark tells us that after Jesus had schooled everyone by answering their questions and escaping their traps that no one dared ask him anymore questions. Jesus is patient with his opponents. And he is patient with us. He talks about what we care about. And when his wisdom silences our restless hearts, when our questions have ceased, he gets to the heart of the matter.
After complimenting this scribe, he tells the crowd to beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplace and have the best seats in church and the place of honor at parties, for they devour widows houses to pay for their lifestyles and to show off they pray long and elegant prayers. This woman who gives her last mite, she knows she will go away, and the scribes won’t care. They will receive the greater condemnation because not only do they read the Bible they write it out by hand. Jesus speaks a word of judgment against the very guy who he had just said was not far from the Kingdom of God.Why are the scribes doing this? Well based on the two greatest commandments if the scribes are not loving their neighbor, if they are not loving this widow, it is because they don’t love themselves.
We that in the scribes behavior. Going out in public for applause, trying to get riches, trying to get the best place at the table. The scribes behavior suggests that they are desperate for love. And they are trying to fill themselves with things they were not made for.
I believe that scriptures teach that people are like jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-18). We are made empty and we are meant to be filled. So if you feel empty inside the good news is there is nothing wrong with you, God made you that way. But the thing is he gives us a choice of what we fill ourselves with. You were made to filled not with this world but a love that surpasses all understanding. How does this work pastor? Paul tells us in the book of Romans chapter 5. “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Here is how I think it works spiritually. Jesus comes and opens the lid of our hearts. Then the Holy Spirit comes, the living water, and washes out our hearts to make us ready for God’s Love. Then God pours his love into our heart, which is a precious oil. Often oil symbolizes love and healing in the Bible. If you are going to make your car engine run you need good oil. And the only oil that will make our hearts run is God’s love. God’s love is the oil that makes our hearts run, except no substitutes.
Why did the scribes ignore the widows? They were jars of clay and they were empty. They were filling themselves with the wrong things. They spent all their time trying to get love and they had no time to love their neighbors.
There have been a lot of trials lately in our country. In the past two weeks we have seen shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a club in the California town of Thousand Oaks. And we are afraid. We afraid of people filled with hate. And there are some people like that. There are people like that in this passage coming to Jesus and trying to get him crucified. But as I look at this world I see that the vast majority of people are not filled with hate. The vast majority of people don’t love themselves. And you can’t love your neighbor unless you love yourself. That is why we devour widows.
But the good news today is if you feel empty, which many of do, there is nothing wrong with you. You only need to receive his love like a child. Because being an adult won’t do it. We must become a child and cry out the most ancient of prayers, “Abba, Father.”
cribes exhibited, dressing in fancy clothing, going out in public to get attention, taking the best seats, taking the place of honor at the feast, is emblematic of people who are desperate for approval, it is behavior of those who are desperate for love. How could these scribes let widows die in the streets? Jesus tells us that to love our neighbor we need to love ourselves so he gives us the answer. The scribes didn’t love themselves so they spent all their time trying to get love so they didn’t have any time to give love. But God’s love is like a blessed oil that pours into our hearts. If we were made for his love it makes sense that his love is the only thing our hearts can contain without leaking. If you want your car engine to run well you have to use premium oil. God’s love is the oil that makes our hearts run. Accept no substitutes.
Do you love yourself? Do you believe you are worthy of love? If you feel empty that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. You were made that way. Jesus opens the lid of our hearts. The Holy Spirit comes to seal the cracks to make us ready so our hearts can hold God’s Love. If you feel an emptiness in your heart it is time to receive. Christ died and rose again so we could receive his love. We were made for love. The scribes didn’t see the widows because they didn’t love themselves. They didn’t love themselves because they were empty inside. They were empty inside because they were jars of clay made to be filled with God’s love. And that is the heart of the matter.
The second question this text raises in our hearts is why would the widow do such a thing? Why would this poor widow, who in her culture had no means to provide for herself, give away the little that she had to the very people who didn’t see her as a human being? Well if the scribes didn’t love their neighbor because they didn’t love themselves then it stands to reason that the widow loved her neighbor because she did love herself, she was filled with God’s love. This widow, though the world saw her as empty, could give her last mite, because inside she had a great might. Inside she loved herself because she was filled with God’s love. Her poverty led her to a poverty of Spirit. Her poverty of spirit caused her to surrender to God and trust him with her tomorrow. When she trusted God to love her tomorrow she could love her neighbor as herself today. His rain falls on the just and the unjust for he is generous. And if his perfect love comes and casts out fear do we as Christians have anything to be afraid of? I would argue that today, we as Christians, do not.
Listening to the radio in the wake of the tragedy at the Tree of Life I learned something about Jewish funerals that I didn’t know before. However some dies, may it be of natural causes, or a tragic death, for thousands of years the Jewish people have said a traditional blessing for the dead. The English translations is “Blessed is the judge of truth.” Because whatever we make thing about Government or taxes or any other issue in this world, one day it will all pass away, and our hearts will remain before the Lord. Blessed be you oh Lord Judge of Truth. Because you know the Truth. And you will lead us in the Truth. And you fill us with your love. To reveal to us the heart of the matter.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.