Mark says that …
“Jesus sat down (in the Temple) opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only the fraction of a penny. Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth - this poor widow has put more into the treasury than the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on.”
I’m sad to say that in the past I’ve used this story to encourage my congregations to give their money to the church. I’ve had the opportunity to pastor 2 different churches and in both settings I read this passage from Mark’s Gospel and told people that God isn’t impressed or pleased when we give to Him and His church from what we have leftover, but when we give to Him the very best that we have ... even if it’s everything that we have.
If we give to the point that it hurts, God can and will open the storehouses of heaven and bless us abundantly.
Give what you can, but make sure that you’re not giving out of your abundance like the rich folks were doing - give from what you have to live on. “I dare you to”, I said, “put God to the test and see what God can do. Give Him the chance to work a miracle in your life!” That’s what the widow did, and that’s what God expects of His people. We give to God and then live off the rest, if there’s anything left.
I’m sad to say that I’ve used this story way too many times in an effort to move people’s hearts to give to the church so that budgets could be met, church boards would stop breathing down my neck, and the lights/gas could stay on a little longer.
In his book, A Warning About the Scribes, author H. Fledderman points out that ...
“The site of the scribal prayer was the temple, and the costs of this temple devoured the resources of the poor.”
Just prior to Jesus’ words about the widow’s offering, He warned the crowd to watch out for the teachers of the law who “devour widow’s houses and for show make lengthy prayers.” Fledderman’s point in the above (short) quote is that the temple was the place where the scribes uttered their lengthy and showy prayers, a gigantic structure that exploited the resources of the poor by sucking them dry of whatever little bit of money they might have had.
“Give to the Temple!”, they’d say.
“Support the House of God!”, they’d shout.
“Give, Give, Give!”, they’d order people to do.
And so Jesus, Mark says, SAT DOWN in the Temple OPPOSITE of where the treasury was. Some scholars say that when people threw their money into the treasury, they had to actually verbally declare to the priest in charge what the money was intended for AND how much they were throwing in so that everyone nearby could see and hear.
Then they’d talk ...
“Jones put in $20.”
“Pete put in $1,000.
“She put in ... a penny?”
Jesus, mind you, SAT DOWN across from the spectacle and didn’t say a word until the widow dropped in her half a penny. In his book Binding the Strong Man, Ched Myers argues that Jesus SITTING down ACROSS from the treasury was Mark’s way of telling us that He was casting judgment on the whole situation because ...
“The temple has robbed this woman of her very means of livelihood. Like the scribal class, the temple no longer protected widows, but exploited them. As if in disgust, the next thing Jesus does is exit the Temple.”
And so here we have a much different take on the story, right?
Because rather than Jesus pointing to the woman as the person you and I should be like and using her example to challenge us to give all that we have, He points to the Temple and the Temple leaders as people we should not be like. In other words, rather than trying to teach us about gifts and which gifts put a bigger smile on God’s face, Jesus is actually lamenting - He’s condemning the very system of ...
You’ve gotta give more.
As much as you can.
As big as you can.
... that motivated her action to dump all that she had into the treasury ... as well as the people (the scribes and teachers) that taught her to do it.
No one (in Jesus’ eyes) should leave the Temple having given so much of their money that they’d go home and worry and wonder about where their next meal would come from or ...
That they’d lay in bed at night worrying about how to pay the rent.
That they’d pace the floors waiting for the creditors to come knocking on the door.
... All the while the Mighty Temple was getting bigger, expanding wider, and sucking up more money and more income like a gigantic Hoover vacuum, wiping out the shriveled up bank accounts of the Jerusalem faithful and lining the pockets of her leaders.
I think the lesson for us, in 2018, is an important one. Yes, giving to our churches is important. Yes, the Apostles taught the importance of sharing and giving and generosity. Paul said that we should be cheerful gives, that we should be willing to sacrifice in order to give. I’m not saying it’s not important, so don’t send me hate mail. I won’t read it.
What I am saying loud and clear and confidently is this:
God forbid we ever teach someone to give to the point that Jesus shakes His head in disgust and walks out of our doors, disappointed and disgusted that we’ve stooped so low that we (like the teachers in Mark 12) made people believe that God expects them to starve, thirst, and shiver in the cold for the sake of building up the Temple.
And so I guess there are two takeaways for two different kinds of people:
ONE: If you’re a pastor or church leader, don’t tell your people that Jesus expects them to tithe and then use stories like the one of the widow to prove it because, really, Jesus never said that and although saying that He did might urge some members of your congregation to drop an extra few bucks into the plate on Sunday and thus get the financial guys in the church off of your back, it will also bring shame and guilt upon the people who can’t afford to do so, it’s a pretty disrespectful way to use the Bible, AND it just might cause Jesus to get up and walk out the door of your church.
TWO: If you sat in church last weekend feeling guilt or shame because you couldn’t put as much money in the plate as the Joneses or because you couldn't put anything in at all or because the pastor or elders or deacons or whatever gave you a funny look or preached hard about how God loves a cheerful giver and that you should always drop your very best gift into the plate … don’t, you have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you can follow Jesus right out the door of that church and not think twice about what anybody else thinks of you.
I’ll let you chew on that.
Much love my friends.