Text: Mark 12:38-44
Date: Pentecost XXIV (Proper 27) + 11/8/15
As the closing chapters of the Church Year pass us by we are told not yet about the last days before the judgment but again of the last days of our Lord’s earthly ministry. Today it is Tuesday of the Great and Holy Week, only three days before Jesus’ ultimate goal. He has been confronted by His enemies while He finishes teaching in the Jerusalem temple. Today He warns everyone against the unfaithful scribes and teachers of the Law. Then He has us notice the contrast between the rich folks putting in large sums of money in the offering box and a poor widow’s measly offering of only two small copper coins. I suppose the temptation weighs heavy for a pastor to preach a stewardship sermon on this text. It is after all budget planning time for the next year. And there are a couple of themes related to good stewardship principles. But this is Tuesday of Holy Week. And there is much more here of much more importance.
St. Mark tells about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry just two days ago, then the cursing of a fig tree and His cleansing of the temple. After His confrontations with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders trying to trick Him into saying something of which they could accuse Him Jesus turns to the people with one last warning. “Beware of the scribes” He says. He describes their pride of place and abuse of their position, especially saying how they are “devouring widows’ houses.”
Scribes were not to be paid for their service as teachers but rather to receive their support from the temple offerings like the difference between wages and salary. Here Jesus reveals their evil profiting even at the expense of poor widows who themselves were dependent on the same temple for their welfare. Finally He says, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”
I was thinking about this type of person. We all like to be appreciated for our work, our talents, our service. But make too much of a deal over it and you can easily get what they call “a big head.” When asked if I’m a good preacher I’ve only always said that some have told me so. According to our district pastors’ self-evaluation forms however you’ll be glad to know that they all (we all) consider ourselves all “above average!” I once knew someone who received an honorary doctorate degree which was great. He deserved it. But then I heard that he insisted that his own children address him even at home as “Doctor.” While we want to encourage people to take appropriate pride in their work and their life, to go overboard easily tends to tear others down.
What does this mean? It is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus is preparing to endure the heartless scoffers, false accusations, anguish, groaning, sighing, bleeding, dying, the ignominious humiliation of the cross. This is the sum and goal of what we call His state of humiliation. But as a result of His humiliation we know, by His triumphant resurrection, that He now receives the greater praise, honor and exaltation.
Now Jesus is sitting “opposite the treasury watching the people putting money into the offering box.” Is Jesus watching you when you pass the offering plate to each other? “Just sayin’.” He notices many rich people putting in large sums of money, and a poor widow putting in only two small copper coins, which make a penny. It’s like the doctor or CEO putting in $100 and a more average wage-earner, a teen or retiree contributing one, ten or twenty dollars. The difference is not the amount, however, but that the CEO’s hundred is a much smaller fraction of his pocket change than the smaller offering of the poorer member. Giving proportionately to income or blessings received is to be a reflection of your thankfulness to God the Giver of every gift.
Now Jesus no longer speaks to the crowds but calls only his disciples to gather around. He has them notice the proportions when He says, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more,”—put in more!—“than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Some, maybe even of His disciples, may wonder why she didn’t at least keep one of the two copper coins for her own needs. But that’s the important point. Out of her poverty she “has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” It was an extreme demonstration of putting all hope in God’s promises. And there are many wonderful promises of God’s help especially to widows and orphans. God commanded His people, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn” (Ex 22:22-24). We prayed today in Psalm 146, “The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless” (Ps 146:9). “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps 68:5).
But there is more here. This is Tuesday of Holy Week. Like this poor widow, Jesus was about to give all He had as the one worthy sacrificial offering that would redeem the whole world. Greater love has no one than this! The greater our contemplation of the great price of His death on the cross for us, the greater the faith and love toward Him, our Lord and our eternal King. It was not through majestic doors that Christ entered heaven, but through a cross. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). This is how we can beware of our own pride and put all our trust in God, the God who saves us, by a strong and living faith in whatever circumstances.
As St. Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9), rich in life eternal. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom… Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Lk 12:32-33).
Jesus is your true humility. Jesus is your priceless treasure. Trust in Him.