“The Widow’s Contribution”
Mark 12:43 – November 8, 2015
I have a friend who is recently retired. He goes around town, quietly, and does good. He was raised in the church, but that was a good many years ago. Yes, he does have a belief in God, and he expresses that faith by doing good for others and being faithful.
Sometimes that means driving people to a doctor’s appointment. Or volunteering at a local not-for-profit organization. Sometimes that means picking up the left-over baked goods from a business at the end of the day, at closing time. And then, delivering the baked goods to a homeless shelter. He does all of this without thanks, with little or no fanfare. He is faithful. He is dependable. He contributes, in any way he can. And, I am so glad he is my friend.
We turn to the Gospel reading for today, from Mark 12. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and Jesus is having another in those continuing discussions with the chief leaders and teachers of the Jewish Law. They happen to be in the rear of the Temple. Large sanctuary, lots of coming and going, to and fro.
These are several verses from Eugene Peterson’s excellent translation, The Message. Mark sets the scene in verse 41: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection.”
Wait, didn’t the congregation at the Temple in the first century pass an offering plate? How did they collect money to keep the doors of the Temple open? And, was there any outreach, any charitable giving being done?
For this, we turn to Matthew Henry’s commentary on this chapter from Mark. “There was a public fund for charity, into which contributions were brought, and out of which distributions were made; a poor’s-box, and this in the Temple; for works of charity and works of piety very fitly go together; where God is honoured by our worship, it is proper He should be honoured by the relief of His poor.”;
So, different cultures and different places of worship, not to mention different centuries. We are looking at a slightly different practice of collecting money. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page. The principles of giving and generosity are the same, and those principles span the cultures and the centuries.
Apparently, people used to hang out at the back of the Temple and talk, have discussions, and sometimes debate. Oh—and they would also check out how much other people were contributing to the Temple and to the charitable fund. (I’m quite serious.)
Remember how open, how blatantly obvious the religious leaders were, about their religious observance? Their ostentatious prayer practice, their ritual observance of washing and cleanliness, their attention to the least little bits of the Jewish Law Code, and their finger-wagging and complaining about other people who weren’t quite as observant? So, of course the prideful extra-observant people among the religious crowd would be extreme in their giving practices. Talk about being a show-off!
Jesus has dealt with this kind of prideful observant attitude before. Here in our reading, we see Him dealing with this kind of show-offy attitude again, only in the matter of giving to the needy. What is the next thing He notices? From Mark 12: “Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents.”
What is this? Jesus does a compare/contrast sort of thing. He compares the large contributions of the rich people with the measly two small coins that the widow contributed. Large amount compared to a small amount.
We will take a short detour and look at our reading from the Old Testament for today. This passage from 1 Kings is a fascinating reading, about how God provided for the prophet Elijah in the time of an extended drought.
I could have preached my sermon to you from this reading! But pairing this passage with the reading from Mark makes a more powerful story.
Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets in the Old Testament. He was God’s spokesman in a time when the nation of Israel was not following God very well at all. King Ahab was married to a foreign Queen named Jezebel, who led Ahab and much of the rest of Israel into idolatry and worship of false idols. That is one of the reasons why God sent an extended drought onto the whole region of the Middle East.
Elijah listened to God, and God communicated to Elijah to head up north, near Damascus, to the home of a non-Jewish widow in the town of Zarephath. Ordinarily, widows were not very well off, with no husband and little means of support. This widow was really, really poor. By the time Elijah arrived at her house, she only had one bag of flour and one jar of oil left in her pantry, and that is all. Hard for us here in the Chicago suburbs to believe that she had so little. Remember, it was a time of extended drought,food prices must have been going through the roof.
Elijah worked a miracle. God provided for the widow, her son, and the prophet. The widow made food for her, her son, and for their tenant the prophet Elijah, every day. The bag of flour and the jar of oil did not run out for months, until the Lord allowed the rains to return and the crops to grow again. Did you hear? God provided for them, out of God’s abundance.
This is what I suspect Jesus was thinking of when He pointed out the widow who put the two coins into the collection box. What did Jesus say? “Jesus called His disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”
Did everyone hear what Jesus points out?
All of these show-off rich people gave a portion out of their abundance. But the poor widow? The widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. She gave, hope-filled, looking to God to provide for her needs. Like the widow in Zarephath, centuries before, this widow in Jerusalem trusts God to provide. This widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God.
But, the treasurer and trustees at the Temple might have had a problem with this kind of thinking, and this kind of giving. Guess what? Too bad! What is valued and lifted up by Jesus, what is important to the Kingdom of God is not what is valued in this world. God does not have a dollars-and-cents kind of perspective!
This vignette is just a slice of the widow’s life. But, I’d like to follow the widow home. See how she treats her neighbors. Does she bring over a pot of soup to a sick friend? Does she clean the apartment of someone who has fallen and broken their leg? And what about her listening skills? Is she someone people come to, to talk about their troubles? Giving to God is so much more than just dollars and cents. So much more than just the coins the show-offy rich people put into the collection box in the Temple.
What about us, today? How can we take this scripture lesson today, and apply it to our lives? Is it just a nice story about what happened to people in Jesus’s day? Or, is it much more?
Today, we all can be like the widow in Jerusalem. This widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. And, this widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God. Like my friend I told you about, who does lots of things without thanks, with little or no fanfare. We all can be faithful. We all can be dependable. We all can contribute, in any way we can, to God and to God’s kingdom.
God willing, I’ll contribute to God’s kingdom. Will you contribute, too? Alleluia, amen.