Sunday, November 11, 2018

On temples and widows

First Kings 17:8-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The context of the widow's donation is Mark 11 to 13. The conflict between Jesus and the religious/political authorities will culminate in a prophetic announcement that all will be leveled and destroyed. We are commanded to love God above all else and others as ourselves. As the scribe told Jesus, love is greater than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifice. Love is more important than the Temple. 

Too often we forget that no human institution is more important than the Lord: not family, not country, not church. Of course, the love of neighbor requires institutions—family, nation and church—because the world is sacramental; but when a sacrament ceases to function correctly it can become an idol. we cling to what we can see and touch, forgetting that the church, without Jesus, is just another human institution. Humans, without Jesus, are advanced primates driven by passions and self will. 

Jesus warns against the errors of the religious elite and their focus on status. We now call it "virtue signaling," speaking hollow words and doing empty things to appear righteous. He condemns them because they "devour widow's houses," abusing their power for personal gain. So there are feelings of ambivalence about the generous, poor widow. Yes, she is a model of sacrificial giving, but she is also a symbol of victimization. 

The sacred is not magic power at our disposal. We serve God, He does not serve us. When disobedient Israel marched the Ark of the Covenant into battle Israel, they lost the battle and the ark. Four hundred years later, ignoring Jeremiah's prophetic word, Judah was confident that Solomon’s temple would protect them, only to see it destroyed by the Babylonians and the ark disappeared. Now Jesus sits in the Second Temple, watching the leaders and the widow. We do not know what He was thinking, but in the next verse we will hear Him say, “Not one stone will be left on another, it will all be torn down.”

God does not dwell in buildings—He lives in the hearts of faithful people. Jesus is the true Temple where God lives, so if Jesus is in us then God dwells in us. Two thousand years ago scribes and priests failed to recognize that and all was lost because of their blindness. In our own time, perhaps, we are also blind, trusting the wrong things, some of them religious.

The Church, and other institutions, are sickly and in decline. But in a post-Christian world, God still dwells in the hearts of His faithful people, and so we must ask. Do I love and trust God? Am I faithful?

We live in a time of dramatic change, it is the end of an era. Trusting God can be more challenging. If the Temple was destroyed twice, we are foolish to think that the institutional church can not also be leveled. The Bible teaches of the holy remnant, those who remain faithful to God. Remnant spirituality does not rely on the success of institutions, it centers upon the Lord. It is prayerful and Scripture based, it proclaims God's Kingdom even to those who deride it. Remnant spirituality is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it is hopeful. Remnant spirituality is more concerned with knowledge of self and repentance than it is with culture wars and passing judgment on others. 

We have one week left of Mark, the harshest and most critical of the Gospels. We have been asked "have you no faith? do you not understand?" over and over. Now we face the judgement and the end of all which we rely on. Perhaps with nothing left, finally, we can turn to Father God? Trusting Him in the darkness as we wait for resurrection light. 

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