Poignantly, the Gospel reading for Nov. 11, the centennial of the armistice ending World War I (Veterans Day), focuses on a widow. Jesus points her out to his disciples, saying she put into the temple treasury all she had to live on: her whole life (Mark 12:44). Some give all.
Countless sermons have praised her as a role model for faithful generosity. This is true, but there is more going on here. Jesus has just railed against ostensibly pious authorities who “devour widows’ houses” and “will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40). There’s a reason the widow has only a penny left to her name. It’s possible to be a hero and victim at the same time, as many veterans and military families understand too well. God bless them all.
As usual in Mark’s Gospel, the disciples miss Jesus’ point entirely. “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ ” (13:1). When Jesus says those big structures will be thrown down, his disciples suddenly listen. Jesus launches into a monologue about wars, earthquakes, famines and other catastrophes.
The fallen soldier and the overlooked widow are doppelgangers for Jesus. He, too, will give his entire life as victim and hero on the cross, where he overmatches the cycle of violence with the different and deeper power of resilient, generous love.
But first he issues a warning: “Beware that no one leads you astray” (13:5). Jesus knows that his disciples, then and now, are easily distracted. Big stones and headlines fascinate and worry us. While we are focused on them, he is focused on us—and on the widow.
What captures our attention? Elections, power shifts, disasters, celebrities and large-scale events make a lot of noise. Meanwhile, the November lectionary leads us to a quiet conversation between two men. Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over …. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Pilate is perplexed. Kingdoms always operate by force. Violence incites action. That’s the way the world works. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.
We glimpse his otherworldly kingdom in Revelation when the renewed Jerusalem comes down in a blaze of beauty, a home with no pain, no crying, no death, no violence, no door locks or sea or anything else to separate people—including no temple. No person or place is needed to broker the presence of God, who is close enough to wipe the tears from a widow’s eyes.
If we look carefully, we can also glimpse it here. The fallen soldier and the overlooked widow are doppelgangers for Jesus. He, too, will give his entire life as victim and hero on the cross, where he overmatches the cycle of violence with the different and deeper power of resilient, generous love. It might not look like much, but it’s all we have to live on.