“Look what great stones, what great buildings!” Oh, we do love that glittery gleaming glow, do we not. We love the flashing lights and the bright colors. We love to shake hands with the prominent citizens in front of the TV cameras, and to sit down for interviews with the morning talk show hosts. An indeed, the Jerusalem temple, where Jesus and his disciples walk in the Gospel lesson for today, is a spectacular sight. Its stones are as big as eighteen wheeler trucks. Its doors can be seen shining in the sun from miles away because they are covered in solid gold. The great writers and philosophers of the day listed it as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Nevertheless, Jesus says, “You see these stones? They will all be thrown down. Not one stone will be left upon another.”
See, it’s not that the glittery gleaming glow is bad in and of itself. Nor are the wealth and power and status behind it. It’s that they are not the most important thing. They are tools in service to something greater. So that when they become and end in themselves, when they become the point and the center of the stage, not the background to let more important matters grow, the whole thing gets icky.
For example, the temple in Jerusalem, with all its glory, was built by King Herod. You may remember Herod from the Christmas stories. He is the king who sent his henchmen to kill all the children of Bethlehem aged two and younger in an effort to destroy the Christ child, because Herod saw the Christ child as a threat. That’s the Herod who built the temple. Herod the tyrant, Herod the butcher.
“But look at the great stones, the great buildings,” we say. “Look at the spectacular display. Herod can’t be that bad, if he made all this!”
“Not one stone,” says Jesus. “Not one stone will be left upon another.”
This is what the disciples look at, the glittery gleaming glow. But what does Jesus look at? We heard last week. Jesus looks at the poor widow, bringing up her two copper coins to put in the offering plate. That’s who Jesus sees.
See, the disciples still don’t get it. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, they tried to get Blind Bartimaeus to quiet down, to not make a ruckus. A blind beggar by the side of the road was not important enough to speak with the Messiah. But Bartimaeus kept on shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus sees him, and heals his eyes. Before that, people are bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. Disciples try to send them away because children are not important enough to merit the attention of the Messiah. Jesus blesses the children anyway.
Jesus sees beyond the glittery gleaming glow. Jesus sees the poor widow and Blind Bartimaeus and the children. Jesus is concerned with something underneath the presentation and the show. He is concerned with you, and me, and every other person in the world.
The poor widow that we heard about last week is one of five nameless women in the Gospel of Mark. These five nameless women get it. Unlike the disciples, they understand how God works in the world.
The first nameless woman is Peter’s mother in law. Jesus heals her of a fever, and she gets up and serves them. This is the exact same thing the angels do for Jesus in the wilderness after he is tempted by the devil. They serve him. So Peter’s mother in law does the work of angels.
Second nameless woman has had a flow of blood for twelve years. This means that no one has touched her for twelve years, lest they be made unclean. She is expected to not touch anyone, if she is to be at all considerate, if she is at all to respect the cleanliness of her neighbors. But when she sees Jesus is in town, surrounded by crowds does she hide? No. Does she take careful consideration of what will make her fellow villagers uncomfortable, offend their sensibilities? No. She does not.
She squirms and jostles her way through a crowd around Jesus, and touches the hem of his cloak. Jesus feels the healing go out of him. He turns around and says, “Who touched me,” and she comes forward, terrified, because she has jostled through touched all these people and now they know. Worse yet, she has taken Jesus healing without even asking. She has stolen it. Nevertheless, Jesus says “daughter,” “member of my family,” “Your faith has saved you.”
The woman with the flow of blood disregards what other people will think of her and instead insists on God’s healing for herself.
The third nameless woman is a pagan, a Canaanite. She worships other gods. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter from a demon, and Jesus says something very rude to her. He says, “It is not appropriate to take the bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.” By “children,” he means the Jewish people, and by “dogs” he means the Canaanite people. But this woman insists on healing so much that she sets aside her own pride, her own ethnic status in the Roman Empire, and claims a place in God’s healing for herself. “Yes Lord,” she says, “But even the dogs eat the crumbs from the Master’s table.”
One woman disregards the sensibilities of others for the sake of God’s healing. The other disregards her own status for the sake of God’s healing.
The fourth nameless woman in Mark is the poor widow we heard about last week. She brings her two copper coins into the temple, her contribution to God’s life, to God’s hopes for the world. They are tiny, insignificant, less than a drop in the bucket. Nevertheless, Jesus says “She has given more than anyone else. She gave all she had, herself.”
This is how God works. God serves. God insists on healing. God is delighted with the tiniest movement toward love, when it is part of our whole selves placed in God’s hands.
That all comes before the Gospel lesson for today. And after? After the stories of tribulation and of the whole world coming apart, we see the fifth nameless woman in the Gospel of Mark. It is the woman who anoints Jesus’ body with expensive oil for burial, ahead of time. This is a kind of contrast. The great stones of the temple were icky, stacked up to make the Tyrant Herod look good. The expensive ointment was loving, poured out on Jesus skin in preparation for the cross.
Here is what reaches beyond the glittery glow. Here is what is more powerful than the forces which will bring that glittery glow down in a pile of rubble. Here is the most powerful and most beautiful thing in the whole universe: The cross of Christ. God’s willingness to die for you. The love that draws you and all people into to resurrection life.
Jesus says, “do not be alarmed” when things start to come apart. Because whether they are crashing down around us or keeping pretty steady with their glittery glow, The power of Christ is deeper. The love of God for the poor widow, and Blind Bartimaeus, and the children, and for you, will carry us through in the end. Thanks be to God.