Jesus Denounces the Scribes
38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 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. 44 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.”
( Mark 12:38-44 NRSV)
What was she thinking?
What was the widow thinking when she put her last two cents into the temple treasury? What did she plan to eat for dinner this evening? Or breakfast tomorrow?
What was Jesus thinking?
He was living on borrowed time. The shadow of the cross hung heavy over his head. He cut down the scribes for being pompous and greedy. We understand that he spoke truth. And he also knew the cost of truth-telling.
When he watched the nameless widow donate the last of her money, he was in awe. And angry. How dare the wealthy prey on the poor! Yet, her pittance stopped Jesus in his tracks in terms of her faithfulness.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: money. Dollars and cents. Paper and plastic. Money.
How do we view money?
One view of money is a discussion of Capitalism vs. Socialism. The problem with that is that it leaves out human nature. We could talk about individualism in America. It’s up to me to (fill in the blank.) That view turns us into “spending units.” Where’s the Christian reflection in being a mere unit?
Or, we can examine our relationship with money. Money is neutral, but we give it power. More powerful than we recognize. Money has the power to corrupt. Don’t think so? Then take out your wallet and give it to the next stranger you see.
Let’s see what the Bible says.
Some Christians would argue that money is a blessing. If we give enough, love enough, are faithful enough, God will provide in abundance. The Old Testament often connects blessing with faithfulness, but it’s not that simple or direct. Talk with Job. He lost everything because of his faith and righteousness.
The Old Testament blessings are a secondary benefit. They are never guaranteed.
The New Testament turns the corner on material blessing. In fact, faithfulness can lead to poverty and martyrdom. Ask the Apostles.
If money doesn’t equal blessing, we’re still left where we were when we began this conversation. And we’re even more stumped by Jesus’ teachings. He tells a rich man to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and then follow Jesus. (Mark 10:17-22.) He openly states that it’s hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, money won’t get us there — only God can do that. (Mark 10:25-27.)
Jesus turns everything on end (as usual) when he says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20b)
Money doesn’t earn us God’s love. We can’t buy our way into God’s blessing. This view pushes God out of the way and we chase our tails trying to pursue the god (little ‘g’) of money. We deceive ourselves into thinking we don’t need God.
That’s the most enticing temptation of all. We have life insurance, health insurance, home insurance, automobile insurance. They provide security when we’re sick or our home is destroyed or we’re in an automobile accident. Certainly this kind of security is a good and helpful thing. But, does it eliminate the need for God?
Perhaps we need old-fashioned Stewardship Campaigns. The Bible is clear about one thing: we don’t own anything. It all belongs to God. Therefore, we’re accountable to God for how we steward our money. In the Old Testament we read, “Ten for God, ninety for me.” That’s called tithing. I saw a statistic recently that we tend to give about 2% of our income to the church: “Two for God, ninety-eight for me.”
And now the guilt kicks in and our giving becomes a duty and we discover we’re appeasing God.
Where’s our sense of discipleship? Out the window while money, once again, holds power over us.
Do you see what I mean? We give money power. We permit It to use us, to tempt us, and we wonder why we’re twisted up in knots.
We believe that God is the giver of all. God created the heavens and the earth. God is in every aspect of our history. God is the ultimate sacrificial giver in Jesus Christ. We can’t begin to match anything that God has done for us. We are unworthy of these gifts, and yet, God gives anyway. Abundantly. Lovingly.
Rest on that for awhile and we come to the realization that all we have wasn’t achieved on our efforts alone; that a system of obligation isn’t enough; that if we try to keep a record on our eternity, we’re so far in the red we’ll never catch up.
Rest on that for awhile and money just might take it’s proper seat in the background where it belongs.
Giving is a spiritual practice. When you write that check; when you place money of any kind in the offering plate, it is a sacred moment. We are acknowledging that our week begins with a day of rest (Sunday), not labor and that we have received a gift greater than any in Jesus Christ.
We don’t give to justify ourselves. We give as an act of holiness.
And when we focus on God’s work, our giving becomes a part of God’s mission here on earth.
Churches worry about money. They’re wrapped up in the concept of scarcity. There’s not enough. And many a church is in hospice today, living on what the congregation can give, not embracing what they have as gift.
That day at the temple, the crowds were giving out of their abundance. I don’t hear Jesus criticizing the crowd. I do hear awe in his voice when he commends her for giving her all. Given the discussion of the egotistical religious leaders just before he watched the widow, I think he was probably angry at their use of the poor to keep the Temple wealthy.
Jesus was there that day because he had teaching to do. And a cross to climb up on. He did that for the widows and for you and me.
Given that, what do you do about your giving? First, go to God in prayer. Consider God’s loving act of sacrifice. Consider your own relationship with the almighty. Then prayerfully consider how you will participate in God’s ongoing giving.
How will you organize your life so that God can spend you?
All glory and honor be to God.