Tag Archives: Mark 12

Giving as Trust

The simple story of the widow’s gift in the temple has fascinated me for years.

the-poor-widows-offeringJesus 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.” Mark 12:41-44

In a past post I wrote about how Jesus may be chastising the temple officials for taking the last coins of a poor widow. That still may be true, yet one cannot help but notice, as Jesus does, the trusting heart of the widow. Then this week I read a story that underscored the emphasis of giving as trust.

The Rev. Gordon Cosby was the founder and pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. When Cosby was a young man, minister of a small Baptist congregation in a railroad town just outside of Lynchburg, Virginia he got a call from a church deacon. Cosby later wrote

My deacon told me that he wanted my help. “We have in our congregation,” he said, “a widow with six children. I have looked at the records and discovered that she is putting into the treasury of the church each month $4.00 – a tithe of her income. Of course, she is unable to do this. We want you to go and talk to her and let her know that she needs to feel no obligation whatsoever, and free her from the responsibility.”

I am not wise now [writes Gordon]; I was less wise then. I went and told her of the concern of the deacons. I told her as graciously and as supportively as I know how that she was relieved of the responsibility of giving. As I talked with her the tears came into her eyes. “I want to tell you,” she said, “that you are taking away the last thing that gives my life dignity and meaning.”

“I tried to retrieve the situation. I was unable to do it. I went home and pondered the story of Jesus in the temple watching the people put their offerings in the collection plate. Jesus’ attitude amazed me. He had the audacity to watch what people were putting in the collection plate. Not only did he have the audacity to watch, he had the audacity to comment. Of the rich who put in large sums he said, “They put in what they can easily afford.” Of the poor widow who dropped in two coins, he said, “She in her poverty, who needs so much, has given away everything, her whole living.” I knew I would have said to her, “Let us take this to the council. We have a sensible council that always makes exceptions and I know that they will relieve you of your discipline of giving.” From Letters to Scattered Pilgrims by Elizabeth O’Conner.

Giving can go beyond sensible into the realm of trust and devotion.  Giving reorients us to the core of our lives.

Lord Jesus, teach me to give with total trust and devotion.

Advertisements

Penny for Your Prayer

Yesterday, I preached on the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44. The main point of my sermon was that Jesus noticed the widow’s offering. He heard her two coins in the offering box and drew attention to her sacrificial gift.

As I wrote last week, scholars may debate whether Jesus lifted her up as a model of Christian generosity or as a victim of the religious Temple institution or both. Whatever the case, he noticed her and asked the disciples to observe her.  Jesus observed and cared.

I want to rest on that observation for a moment and to acknowledge the wonder and joy of that observation. In a crowded, bustling temple courtyard, Jesus noticed a poor widow, someone whom the religious leaders seemed to ignore.

This morning as I walked into our church, I heard the birds singing. The Psalmist wrote about the temple in Jerusalem, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young– a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God (Psalm 84:3).” Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt 6:26).

Jesus observation gives me hope. In our complex, crowded, busy world, Jesus notices individuals, you and me. We are not simply some nameless creature, wandering the planet.  We are not some number in a distant computer.  We are a name, a face, a life to God Almighty. God knows our needs, our situation, the pleas of our hearts.

As part of my sermon, I had the congregation first listen to the sound of a large bag of coins filling a metal offering plate: the sound of the rich people. Then I had them listen to the soft clink of two copper coins. One had to listen carefully to hear the clink. How wonderful that Jesus heard.

I also invited the congregation to take a penny home and use it as a reminder of the Widow’s prayer. The penny reminds us that God is always listening, and that our pleas will be heard by God.  It is not a lucky penny, but a reminder of a loving God.

Lord Jesus, keep me mindful that you are listening.

Widow Problem

The story of the Widow’s Offering in Mark 12:41-44 troubles me. Or more exactly how we interpret it.

(Jesus) 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.”

I grew up hearing the widow described as a model of Christian giving, a heroine of giving sacrificially. The moral is that we are to give more financially to the church. Yet, I never heard anyone teach or preach that I should give away everything like she had.

However, I rarely read the story in its context. Jesus observed the widow during his final week in Jerusalem. He had been in direct confrontation with the temple leadership and its institution throughout chapter twelve. Immediately preceding the story of the widow’s offering, Jesus warned against the religious officials, “Beware, of the scribes, who . . . have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at the banquets! They devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40).

Could it be that Jesus’ observation of the widow is a reinforcement of that warning? Could it be that instead of being observed as a heroine of giving, she is rather a living example of how the religious institution has devoured all her property? After all, Jesus observed what she has done, but he does not praise it.

Furthermore, the story is immediately followed by Jesus prediction that the temple will soon be destroyed. “Do you see these great buildings: Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). Would an offering to the temple treasury be such a laudable act if the temple itself will soon be destroyed?

I realize that the widow’s action may be a call to radical discipleship. One of my seminary professors, the late Don Juel, wrote,

She was able to part with her possessions—unlike the young man who came to Jesus and ‘goes away sorrowing’ because he cannot sell what he has. We can recall the promise of Jesus earlier: those who lose their lives will save them. The woman gives ‘her whole life,’ as Jesus will give himself as a ‘ransom for many.’ Donald H. Juel, Augsburg Commentary on Mark, 1990, p. 173

Can the widow be a model and a victim at the same time?

Lord Jesus, show me how to give myself completely to you.