Proper 27 (B), November 9, 2003
When Religion Goes Bad
Mark 12:38-44

The French mathematician Blaise
Pascal once said, “People never do evil so cheerfully as when they do
it in the name of God.” Indeed, religion can become a platform for
all sorts of actions and attitudes that are immoral and hurtful.

In
Mark 12:38-40 Jesus indicts the religious leaders of his generation
for such oppressive evil. In their case, they were secretly devouring
the income of widows, the most vulnerable in their society, all the
while maintaining pretence of religiosity in public. One need only to
consult the annals of church history to find other examples of such
behavior. In the fourth century, the followers of Arius concocted
stories of verbal abuse, violence and even murder to try to discredit
Athenasius. Under the guise of service to God, these critics slandered
a godly person with whom they disagreed.

The
episode about the widow’s offering (12:41-44) serves as an example of
his indictment against the scribes. Although we tend to read the
widow’s offering as an example of extravagant devotion (and indeed it
is that), just as much it is further proof of how the scribes have
devoured the income of widows. This poor widow with only two copper
coins is in such a condition, presumably, precisely because of the
actions of the scribes. People need look no further than the temple
courts themselves for evidence of Jesus’ criticism. Because she gave
out of her poverty, she gave more than everyone else. But she gave out
of her poverty because of the injustice of the scribes.

Mark
12:38-44 serves to warn followers of Jesus today of the subtle
temptations to use their faith as a cloak for oppression and evil.
Once in the church I serve, I caught a church member using our
congregation’s phone directory to make sales contacts. When
confronted about it, he protested that he was just trying to
“fellowship” with church members, but later he reluctantly admitted
to using the phone directory in a way inappropriate to its purpose.
This is a small example, but an important one, because it illustrates
just how tempting it can be to exploit the rich resources of our
faith for personal gain.

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Sermon brief provided by Timothy Peck, Pastor, Life Bible
Fellowship, Upland, CA

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