Every story in the Bible has its beginning in the story that precedes it. It sets the context for what is to come. The story that precedes this lesson is the one about a poor widow who gave two pennies for the betterment of the world. Two pennies compared to the five and ten dollar bills given by the rich. And Jesus said, “She gave the most because she gave all that she had.” I think there’s hope in that message for us. No matter how little we have, if we give what we have, we can make a difference and bring change the world we live in. We just have to be committed to doing the right things.
It’s not up to one person in the White House, or the hundreds of millionaires in Congress, to change the world. It’s up to you and me to build the kingdom of heaven among us. We have to give of the best we have in our own backyards before unity can reign in our land and our world.
With these thoughts in mind, there’s more hope in our Gospel than one might expect, given the negative tone that the early translators handed down to us. Take a look at the way I translate the Greek text:
5 Likewise, some were speaking about the temple, how it had been adorned with beautiful stones and donations, he said, 6 “As for these things that you are observing—the days will come in which no stone will be left upon a stone here; no, it will be destroyed.”7 Then they questioned him, saying, “Teacher, when will these things occur? And what will be a sign when these things are about to happen?”
8 Therefore, he said: “Beware. For many will come claiming to represent mea saying, ‘I am the one you should listen to,’b and, ‘The end is near.’ Do not be deceived lest you follow after them. 9 So whenever you hear disputes and commotions, do not be terrified; for it is necessary for these things to come first, but the fulfillment of my prophecyc is not coming immediately.”
10 He went on to said to them, “Nation after nation will be awakened,d and country after country. 11 And there will be great upheavals; namely, hunger and pestilence will be an occasion for action; also there will be awesome sights and great miracles from heaven.e
12 Nevertheless prior to all these things, they will lay their hands on you and harass you, delivering you up to gathered assemblies, and even prisons, being led before kings and governors on account of all the things I stand for.f 13 It will turn into an opportunity of testimony for you. 14 Therefore determine in your hearts not to think about what you will answer beforehand; 15 for I will give you the words to say and indeed wisdom which everyone opposing you will not be able to resist or dispute. 16 But still, you will be betrayed by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 Likewise you will be hated by all because of all the things I stand for.f 18 And yet the hair on your head shall not perish. 19 In your steadfastness, safeguard your mind.g
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a in my name; claiming to represent him.
b I am. In other words, “I am the one you should listen to.” Today this speaks about those Christians who continue to proclaim that the end times are coming. Jesus was speaking about the destruction of the Temple that would occur in forty years (70 CE). End times claims are used to produce fear for the purpose of behavior manipulation. They are not good news.
c my prophecy – that the Temple would be destroyed (see verse 6).
d egeirō – to arise from sleep.
e Most of the verbs and particles in this prediction have positive connotations – that’s why the attitude of a translator is so important. Jesus is predicting what will come from all their efforts – great good will come!
f because of all the things I stand for — “on account of my name.” One’s name encompasses everything he or she stands for.
g psuche, vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing; the psyche, personality, mindset.
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Jesus and John the Baptist came proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand. That means within your grasp. Things are going to turn around if you and I persist in sharing the message and mission of Jesus: bring good news to the poor, open the eyes of the blind, heal those who are sick, free the prisoners, declare the year of the Lord’s favor. We have a responsibility for building the kingdom for others. In doing so, we build it for ourselves.
The year of the Lord’s favor refers to the Year of Jubilee when all things went back to their original owners, and everyone started from the same place. Every person had an equal chance to make it in the world. No one could have unfair influence over the affairs of others because they inherited money from their father/mother, who inherited it from their parents, who inherited it from their parents, etc.
The Year of Jubilee was supposed to happen every fifty years. It probably had been a long time since the religious leaders of Judea and Israel enforced it. People with the power rarely like to give it up to become one of the common people again. It makes me think of the impossibility of term limits for politicians being approved by the people who would be voting to become common again, or fair taxes. People with lots of money and comforts rarely are willing to give it up. Yet Jesus called for a Year of Jubilee, a year of the Lord’s favor when all people would be equal.
When you follow Jesus and do the things he did, you will be hated by those who don’t want their money going to help the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the marginalized in our society. But you will be bringing the kingdom to them. You will make them feel loved. You will bring peace and hope to them.
What’s it going to take to bring equity to all? All that is considered beautiful in the eyes of the world is going to have to crumble. That’s a frightening thought. Not one stone left on another. A new kingdom in which every person is treated with dignity and respect will have to be built.
Are you following Jesus? How many people hate you because of your efforts to help the poor and the sick and the prisoners?
The poor widow who gave everything she had, even though it was minimal, was building the kingdom for someone else who possessed even less than she had. Her reward was the peace that passes all understanding in her heart and mind because she knew she was doing the right thing.