“…for she has put in all she had…”

If this morning’s gospel lesson was just about money, the sermon would be simple.  If it was just about worth, or prestige, or even if it was just about appearances, it would be very simple.  But our gospel addresses the way all of these things come together in our experience;  money and worth, prestige and appearances all collide to form our cultural foundations, and Jesus introduces faith to the mix to teach us about the economy of the kingdom of God . 

The crowds were listening to Jesus “with delight”, according to Mark 12:37.  He was constantly turning the arguments of the wise into punchlines.  The religious experts are out-argued, and the crowds of self-important, publicly religious people – well-to-do merchants and community leaders of some substance – are first parodied, and then dismissed!  None of their gifts count for anything, Jesus says, when compared to these two, small, copper coins.  And we who want for no material thing wonder how this can be so…

Because we live in a prosperous, free-market democracy, we pretend to know how the economy works, at least at the most basic level; everything costs something.  Some things cost more than others, but in almost every instance, the sum of your time and materials, plus a small profit (because the workers deserves their wage) determines what any given thing will cost.

But the trick to economics is the difference between what a thing costs, and what someone (or something) determines that “thing” to be worth.  The relative value of things changes with their scarcity, or their beauty, or their desirability.  The ability to navigate these differences in a free market is what generates wealth, power and influence…for some.

Unless you are an ardent communist, or on the wrong end of a real estate deal, it is hard to object to a system that has fed, clothed and housed most of us fairly well for the last 70 years or so – but as disciples of Jesus, we should object fairly regularly, because it is a system that does not reward true merit, or even honest toil.  Too many honest, hard-working, faithful folk are trapped by the imbalance of wealth in this country.  World-wide, an alarming number of people are forced to exist on pittance, because those who control the wealth have developed quite a taste for comfort, power and lives of ease.

Some of those are quite visible – sports stars, entertainers, entrepreneurs and politicians – public figures who spare no expense to tell the world how good it is at the top, and who sometimes suggest that they know all about worth – about what is valuable – and if only you and I would to accept their definitions, and work very hard, we would be able to live as they do…

You may have thought this was going to be a sermon against religious fakery – perhaps I would shed my “flowing robe” and forgo the long public prayer after the sermon – but when Jesus talks about money, he makes a statement about faith and devotion.  And he always takes great care to tell us that God does not measure, or value, or consider costs in the same way we do.  God’s estimate of our worth is such that, in Jesus, God was willing to give up everything for our sake.  From Creator to Crucified – that is not a sensible economic transaction in our eyes; but in God’s economy, it is the only transaction that matters.

We are in a season where we spend a lot of time thinking about cost, and worth, and value – not to mention sacrifice and thankfulness – and it is easy to think of these things in strict economic terms.  But Jesus warns us that it is a mistake to pretend that our values reflect God’s values. Simply calling ourselves faithful or devoted does not ensure that our behaviour will bring the Kingdom of God closer.

So when the rich call themselves ‘blessed’, we ought to be suspicious; and when the victor offers a prayer of thanksgiving, we need to hear humility and grace, not jubilant certainty; and when politicians and people in power use the language of salvation, we should not be relieved, we should be afraid.

Human history is one of confusion; we confuse cost with value – appearance with power (devotion); prestige with justice – and we are guilty of confusing the Kingdom of God with the economically ordered world that we live in.  Jesus does not promise (or promote) God’s Kingdom as a place where the righteous will have/can get whatever they want, whenever they want – rather, God’s kingdom is a place where no one will want for anything – because God’s economy promises that God provides enough; enough faith; enough joy; enough love.  Thanks be to God that we have, in Jesus, seen the fullness of God’s gracious gifts.  in Jesus we are offered such an abundance of what is good and right and true, that nothing else is necessary.

Amen

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