Every Tuesday I travel from my Boones Creek residence to Jonesborough to listen to great storytelling performances provided by the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild. I pass seven churches. Each has a sign stating “Everyone Welcome”. Exactly, what does that mean?
At best, for the outsider, “welcome” means that the church is a safe place.
For all the gospels widows are mascots for the poor. Without a man, widows had no income and choices were few. With a good reputation, they could remarry. Perhaps a grown son would care for them. Others were forced into prostitution or begging. Imagine that situation with children present. Often we assume that the widow Jesus observes at the temple treasury in Mark 12 is elderly. And often we assume the story relates to our modern day offering plates. But the deeper intent of the writer casts a shadow that makes most paid preachers squirm in the pulpit. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear too many sermons about the widow’s plight AND the scribes greed. As a famous radio voice would say, “And now, the rest of the story…”
The rest of the story begins by stepping back from the widow’s offering. Before that episode Jesus warns the crowd to “beware the scribes”. He lists their shortcomings; one of which is “devouring widow’s houses” (vs.40). It was a common practice that estates were divided by scribes if no male survivor existed. The scribes were known for charging a hefty price, leaving a widow in much direr straights.
Immediately following these fore warnings, Jesus observes a widow leaving a meager amount in the temple treasury. The widow gave out of her poverty among others who gave out of wealth. While the widow is commended for giving what may have been her last meal, the question does arise: Is the poverty from which she suffers caused by the clerical demands? After all, these scribes devour widow’s houses.
The job description of a scribe was one that interpreted the law for the people, helping people understand how to love God and one another. Clearly, Jesus was disgusted with their job performance. The widow’s mite story is about how greed and purposeful misinterpretation of the scriptures exploits the powerless. The “rest of the story” concerning the widow’s mite is a litmus test for those who are charged with preaching and teaching the scriptures.
Do pastors, church leaders, or church members demand such an adherence to their interpretation that they exclude those on who do not measure up? At worst, do they exploit someone’s weaknesses for their gain? Think beyond economics. Must you participate in the offering to feel welcome in worship, conform to a dress code, live up to gender specific expectations? When these expectations are not met, often those on the inside rejoice. Gaining joy from another’s exclusion and pain is exploitative It is just as disgraceful as devouring a widow’s house.
Modern day widows are not always welcome and sometimes they are taken advantage of. But if they were welcomed and affirmed, here’s an example of what the church welcome sign would look like.No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here: Are you young or old? Do have brown skin, black skin, white skin, yellow skin or any color of skin? Are you married or single, gay or straight, sick or well, man or woman, happy or sad? Do you have an high IQ or a low IQ? Are rich or poor, powerful or weak? If you believe in God some of the time or none of the time or all of the time, you are welcome. There are no hoops to jump through. This is a safe place. Everyone welcome.
Many of these church welcomes are all over the internet. I just picked through a few and created my own. What would your welcome sign look like? Pastors, how would you congregations react if you put your homemade welcome sign on the front of the church one Sunday morning?