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25 Pentecost - Mark 13:1-8

Ooh, shiny!

Before it was an exhibit at New York City's American Folk Art Museum, an achievement in Minecraft, and an entry in the Urban Dictionary, ooh shiny was the powerful effect of the stunning Jerusalem temple.

The ancient historian Josephus explains:

Now the outward face of the temple in its front ... was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away...

But this Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white....

Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth.

Combine the wall of bling with the American gospel of Size Matters, and it is easy to understand why the disciples were intoxicated with the architecture.

Jesus is underwhelmed.

Perhaps he agrees with Pastor John Pavlovitz, who writes, all religion is small religion;

yours, mine, that of the people you admire and those you can't stand, the traditions you hold tightly to and and the ones you've long ago rejected.

A God our brains and buildings can fully hold just isn't big enough to be truly God... which is why Isaiah said the original version of the massive temple was too snug for the hem of God's robe.

But the enormous temple isn't only way too small; it is also way too big.


Large stones and buildings come with a price tag.


Today's exchange about the size and fate of the temple is the sequel to a crucial scene.

If you missed it, don't feel bad—the disciples were there, and they missed it too.

Mark writes:

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, ... "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets!

They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.

They will receive the greater condemnation."

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

We have lost the anger and sadness in his voice.

We have often missed the point of his lament, miscasting the widow as a stewardship hero instead of the victim of greedy religion Jesus saw.

It's easier to encourage others to be like her than it is to look in the mirror and see the scribe.

It's easier to pigeonhole her into sacrificial piety than to admit the system crushes people, to give lip service thanks to grocery workers instead of a living wage.

The temples of American capitalism are just as gaudy and Godless as the one Herod built in Jerusalem on the broken backs of God's beloved, the poor.

A golden veneer of religion makes every dehumanizing atrocity, from plantation to corporation style slavery, not only palatable but visibly virtuous.

Jesus sees through the shiny and points out the widow.

What about her?

The temple, that foreclosed on her house as a convenient service to God, now squeezes out her last red cent and lets her shuffle off to die.

Do you see her?

Oh, you see these great buildings.

You see Herod's big shiny Mall of Jerusalem, cynically dedicated to God.

Well, take a good look now, because not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.

The disciples gasp in horror, the same way we did when our twin temples collapsed twenty years ago, the same way we will when banks too big to fail and a democracy too strong to falter inevitably crumble too.

Jesus doesn't care.

He's worried about the widow, and about you.


When the executive committee asks Jesus again about the fate of the temple, he changes the subject immediately: Beware that no one leads you astray.

Clearly you are easily distracted, so listen up.

Ignore the endless parade of catastrophes.

They are not the end of the world, unless they are, which would be good news, the beginning of the birth pangs, a signal of hope that finally something better is coming.

When temple religion, and the economy, and the government, and all the Big Important Ooh Shiny idols crumble and collapse, and they will, don't settle for a lateral move to other false gods.

Keep your eye on the widow.

That's not only who God cares about, that's who God is.

God is generous to the bitter end.

God is homeless.

God is overlooked, neglected, and vulnerable.

God doesn't live in a shiny mansion on the hill; God dies on a cross.

God leaves heaven, a gated community, and moves to a human face lined with poverty and pain.

If all you can see is shiny, you will miss God.

If you settle for security and wealth and social standing, you will be led astray and lost.

Every temple is much too small for God and much too big for God, who is sick and tired of watching stones get turned into big houses by small hearts that turn into stones.