A Preacher’s Confession: I Don’t Want to Be the Poor Widow, I Want to Be the Pharisee

By Joel Hess

Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance so:

I pretend to like the story of the poor widow and her mighty mites vs. the esteemed, celebrities of the day, scribes as recorded in the 12th chapter of Mark. Every time I hear Mark tell it, I crucify those braggadocios Pharisees who loved to be popular, in the spotlight, and rich. They made sure everyone saw them giving 10% to the Lord. 

Meanwhile, Jesus directs His disciples eyes, yours and mine, to the poor widow. Unlike the Pharisees, she went unseen by the crowds, let alone their leaders. She had nothing to brag about for many reasons. Her offering to the Lord was equally unnoticed. What are a couple of pennies to a capital campaign that needs a million dollars?

Yet our crucified Lord makes it clear that her worthless giving was far greater than a million dollars. She gave all she had. Jesus’ applause isn’t about the amount of money she gave.  God doesn’t really need our money. That’s the joke. He also doesn’t need our hearts, as one preacher wrote in his commentary on Mark.

Jesus is not applauding her giving, nor he is encouraging us to give like her. He is pointing out her peace, her confidence, her trust in the Lord’s providence! She lives by His grace. She can give away her money because she doesn’t live by money alone but by the promises of God.

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May we realize the same. God provides. God has provided more than that widow even knew, as the stranger watching her later laid down His life for her and for the world. Jesus gave all that He had so we may enjoy the riches of God’s grace, His forgiveness, His eternal life!

Many a preacher points these thing out, yet I fear many a preacher did not hear Christ’s condemnation. I surely didn’t until recently. The question both Mark and His savior are asking of you is – who do you want to be: the poor widow or the popular hero?

To be honest, in an idiotic way, I realized this past year that I want to be that scribe with the long flowing robes, the celebrity of the Missouri Synod, the guy who grew his church out of nothing, the silver tongue preacher. I want to be the recognized hero in Christendom, greeted by others at the conferences, sitting in the best seat and admired from afar at the podium. Yeah, crap, I want to be a Pharisee. God have mercy.

Especially amidst the much advertised crisis of American Christianity, it seems that many a pastor spends his time clamoring to make it big, to save the church, or at least get credit for such a salvation. Like the tower of Babel, we want to make a name for ourselves! We want to be noticed! Greeted. Admired. Adored! God have mercy.

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Even this Ash Wednesday part of me wants to have the biggest ash on his forehead, the biggest tears of sorrow on his brow.  Look at me.

I don’t want to be the poor widow unseen by the crowds, unseen by the world, my peers, my overseers.

Yet, thank God I am this widow in God’s kingdom. We all are really. We preachers especially have nothing that is our own: our talents, our turns of phrases, our gift of gab, our passionate rhetoric. It’s all God’s. He doesn’t need us no matter how much we think we put in the offering plate or in the beautiful deposit of the Church’s literature.

Lord save me from myself. Humiliate me and humble me. Grant me the peace to be content with Your salvation, your providence of my every need. Give me this widow’s peace that I may be free to give all I have whether I am seen or not. Save me from myself so that I sincerely serve my neighbor, my brother and sister, my beautiful Savior.  May I disappear in your grace.

Written while listening to “Crazy Daughter” by Ghost Rabbit on SoundCloud, reading The Evidential Power of Beauty by Thomas Dubay, and enjoying God’s gift of scotch with a couple of rocks.

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5 thoughts on “A Preacher’s Confession: I Don’t Want to Be the Poor Widow, I Want to Be the Pharisee

  1. I think you generalize too much about LCMS pastors wanting to make it big or be recognized and admired. In and outside of the church, this problem exists, but you paint a wide brush. I have met enough LCMS pastors to know they are usually just doing their best in their ministry and trying to be faithful servants.

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    1. You make a good point Flanagan, most pastors do just want to be faithful servants, and I am thankful for your clarification as I am sure Rev. Hess would agree with you as well that many just want to be faithful. As a hopeful future pastor going through Seminary I too just want to see myself as faithful.

      Rev. Hess does have a point as well. Rev. Hess is not attacking faithful servants of God’s flock, his point is what he realized about himself which is just that Old Man Adam wanting all the glory for himself and not letting God be God. Surely an error that creeps into every pastor/Chrsitian at times and that we must guard and protect against. Certainly his comments about making it big were not just toward LCMS pastors/theologians etc. but all Christian leaders throughout a country infected with the idea that bigger is better and power makes right. I know I am certainly affected by this as it is the culture I was raised in. So thank you Pastor Hess for your pointing back to Christ.

      Blessings to you Flanagan and Hess as we enter this Lenten Season! May God be so gracious as to reveal each of our sins as he did to Rev. Hess so that we can come to Christ and lay those sins before him in repentance with the promise of forgiveness!

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  2. Indeed, we all need to be aware of pride, which we cannot confuse with confidence, enthusiasm, motivation, and being conscientious. Doing ministry for the right reasons…serving God, may place some pastors in large and prosperous churches, while others may work in tiny and poor congregations. In either case, it is all in God’s plan and He calls us to always walk humbly before Him.

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