The Poor Widow

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This morning, in our mini-series on giving, we are going to look at that famous incident when Jesus was in the Jerusalem Temple and he watched and saw how people were giving for the Temple needs and particularly what one poor widow gave. But let us first pray:

Heavenly Father, we pray that by your Holy Spirit you will open your word to our hearts and our minds and our hearts and our minds to your word, for Jesus sake. Amen.

So, please, if you have them, open your Bibles to Mark 12.41-44. And I have just two headings. They are, first, The widow and, secondly, Jesus. But by way of introduction we need to know that Jesus has just been warning his hearers about some of their hypocritical religious leaders. Look at the previous verses, Mark 12.38-40:

In his [Jesus’] teaching he said, “Beware of the Scribes…who [among other things – verse 40] devour widows' houses.”

Who were these Scribes devouring widows' houses? Well, they were the experts in the Jewish law and particularly the books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy) plus a whole lot of the traditions that had grown up as case law. So how did some devour widows' houses? We don’t know. But why were they devouring widows' houses? That we do know. It is why we are all tempted to acquire or manage our money selfishly. It was their greed. They were breaking the 10th commandment (Exodus 20.17):

you shall not covet.

And that is the hardest, in one sense, of all the commandments. You see, often we don’t know we are breaking it! The other commandments in the second table are external and actual things you do: honouring by submitting to your parents, killing, having sex outside marriage, thieving, and, lying. But coveting is a matter of your internal lusts and desires that no one else can see. So beware of being like the Scribes – outwardly they seemed fine pillars in the Old Testament equivalent of the church, but inwardly they were breaking the 10th commandment. So much by way of introduction. Now, by contrast to the greedy Scribes:

1. The Widow.

Let’s read our passage again (Mark 12.42-44):

And he [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has 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.”

At today’s prices I worked out that the widow’s two copper coins were the equivalent to two 50p pieces – that is to say, £1. She was a very, very poor widow, maybe, with a house cruelly acquired by the Scribes, and, with only a daily wage of £1 to live on. And her giving is all the more amazing because, being a Temple goer, she probably knew all about tithing, or giving 10%. That principle comes from Numbers 18.20-21 where we read that, instead of inheriting some of the promised land, God said to Aaron, that:

to the Levites [who originally worked in the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness years] I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do.

So many Christians today give 10% of their secular earnings to support those who work in the church. Nor does Jesus discourage that. On one occasion he said, as an aside, when reproving wrong headed religious leaders (Matthew 23.23):

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

So Jesus says you ought to tithe. But it’s no good if you tithe, yet ignore justice and mercy and faithfulness in your daily work that enables you to tithe! And that teaching by Jesus about tithing is repeated in Luke’s Gospel for emphasis. Also the Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9.13 (when seeming to refer to the Levites):

do you not know that those, who are employed in the Temple service, get their food from the Temple?

He is reminding people of that support for religious workers in the Old Testament. But then he goes on in the next verse, 1 Corinthians 9.14:

In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

And the Jewish readers of Paul’s letter would have associated that with Jesus’ teaching on tithing. However, this widow blew the 10% principle to smithereens by giving not 10% but 100%! And that brings us to our second heading and Jesus.

2. Jesus

What do learn here about Jesus and giving? Two things, and, first, that Jesus knows all about us and our giving. Jesus watched as rich people put in large sums into the treasury.Then he saw the widow put in just two small copper coins, but he seems super-naturally to know what all were giving. For Jesus said (Mark 12.43-44):

this poor widow has 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.

Divine omniscience – God knowing everything about everything and everyone all the time is hugely encouraging to believers. For as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.8):

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

That is why Jesus says immediately then says, you need to pray the Lord’s Prayer which includes praying for material needs - Our daily bread (Matthew 6.9-13). Yes, this omniscience of God is a mystery but is such a fundamental truth. It is regularly taught in the Old and New Testaments. Proverbs 15.3 says:

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

And Hebrews 4.13 says:

No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

So one day we must all give account. But how are you and I going to account for how we have spent our money on the judgment day? Randy Alcorn in his book The Treasure Principle tells how in 1888, Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor (who’d made his fortune out of dynamite) read an obituary of himself with the headline, “The Merchant of Death Is Dead.” The newspaper editor had confused him with his brother, Ludvig, who had died. But Alfred was shaken. However, it meant, when he died eight years later, he left $9 million for awards for people whose work benefited humanity.

So how are we going to end our days regarding what we’ve given for God’s work? Of course, our money doesn’t buy our way into heaven. Nothing can pay the price for our sins but Christ’s death on Calvary, but all of us will be assessed one day when (1 Corinthians 4.5):

the Lord comes who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

So Jesus in the Temple knew what the rich together with the poor widow were giving. And now risen and reigning he knows all about our giving in 2021. So that brings us, secondly, to how Christ makes judgments regarding giving. And this is so important. For he calculates not on what you give away but on what you have left over. So Mark 12.43 shows us Jesus’ calculation in the Temple:

Truly [that is to say, with double underlining - truly], I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those [rich people] who are contributing to the offering box.

So Bishop J.C.Ryle comments:

Jesus would have us know that some persons appear to give much to religious purposes who in God’s sight give very little, and that some appear to give very little who in God’s sight give very much.

That’s why the first part of 1 Corinthian 4.5 is so important:

Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes.

So we mustn’t judge one another over giving – particularly at this time of Covid, business closures and job losses. For someone who gives very little may be wonderfully self-sacrificial and someone who gives a lot can give and should give more. And someone who, genuinely doesn’t have the equivalent of even two copper coins to give, can give to the church in terms of time or in some other way – at least in praying for the money that’s needed.

My time has gone. So I must conclude. I do so with a verse to meditate on and to motivate us as we think about Jesus’ teaching and as we review our own giving. It is 2 Corinthians 8.9 where Paul reminds you of…

…the grace [or giving] 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.


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