REAL GIVING Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 12:38-44 LSB Series B, Proper 27
November 11, 2018
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 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. 44 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.” (ESV)
There they stood, the thirteen collection containers known as the Trumpets, because that’s how they were shaped. They were situated at the Gate Beautiful, which stood between the Court of the Women and the Court of the Men in the Jerusalem temple. It was there that Jesus was seated, watching as the people of God brought their gifts– their offerings–to the temple. Each of the trumpets had a special purpose. Some were to supply corn or wine or oil for the many sacrifices that were offered each day at the temple. Some were to support the priests and the Levites who served in the temple. Some were perhaps for helping those who were less fortunate. Many came that day bringing their gifts–often large–and the sound of coins dropped into those containers would resound throughout the temple grounds. Then came a widow, perhaps with a child in her arms as some picture her. She is obviously poor. She drops into one of the containers her meager offering, two small copper coins, nothing worth noting. But Jesus takes note of it:
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” (43)
This is real giving. Jesus commended that woman who came to the temple that day to bring her gift. It wasn’t the size of the gift which impressed him. It was the heart with which she gave her gift. Would he commend us for our offerings today? It’s a question we need to ask today. It’s a question that gets to the very heart of the Christian faith. There are three characteristics of real giving noted in this account.
I. REAL GIVING IS RADICAL GIVING
This woman demonstrated radical giving that day. As with many of our English words, “radical” comes from the Latin, the word radix, meaning “root.” If something is radical, we mean that it has to do with the root of something. The response of our nation’s young men and women to the attack on Pearl Harbor over 70 years ago was a radical response. Men lined up at recruiting stations to sign up for the war effort. Women took up labor tasks in factories across our nation to support their men in every branch of the military service. These responses came from the heart of the people of that generation. It is no wonder that they are often referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” The giving of the woman in our text was radical giving; it came from the depths of who she was; it grew out of the root of her spiritual life—the God who called her his own.
Does our giving measure up to this standard? What is the motive behind our giving? Sometimes we give from the motive of wanting to see something happen, like the building of a church or school, or getting the congregation out of debt, or helping an organization working in a disaster area. Such giving isn’t bad—certainly these are fine things to support—but they aren’t necessarily motivated by our heart. Other motives are usually involved such as it makes me feel good to help someone out, or there is a need and I can do something to help, or I just want to get them to quit hounding me.
We can’t see into the heart of this woman, but we can see into the heart of Jesus. He revealed his heart when he saw the crowds in Mark 6:
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mk 6:34).
The disciples saw his heart for real giving in Mark 8 when he said:
“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” (Mk 8:2–3).
They heard his heart speaking in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said,
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mt 26:53–54).
It was his heart that moved Jesus to heal the sick, feed the hungry, restore sight to the blind, announce forgiveness, and finally give himself into death that we might be his people forever. His was a radical giving, giving that came from the root of who he was as the Son of God, giving that grew out of the of his compassionate heart for those who were lost in sin and under the power of death.
II. REAL GIVING IS SACRIFICIAL
Clearly the gift of this woman was of that nature. I remember seeing Hollywood movies depicting the sacrifices that men made not only to serve their country, but also to preserve the lives of their fellow soldiers. They told the stories of men who threw themselves on a live grenade to protect the lives of the platoon members nearby, or braved enemy fire to pull an injured comrade from the battlefield. These were true sacrifices: men and now women laying their lives on the line to serve their country and their companions. This was the true sacrifice of the woman in the temple: with what she had she honored her God. She gave what “she had to live on.” (44).
Once again we must ask, does our giving measure up; is it a true sacrifice? Jesus didn’t berate the wealthy who poured large sums into those trumpets in the temple. He simply noted that “they all contributed out of their abundance” (44). We contribute out of our abundance. We have been richly blessed by our God with earthly wealth. We carefully calculate what we will put into the offering plate on the basis of what we think we can afford. We are willing to give, as long as we can still meet the other obligations we have accumulated for ourselves. Is it truly an act of sacrifice? One commentator on this passage wrote:
It may well be a sign of the decadence of the church, of the failure to our Christianity that gifts have to be coaxed out of church people, and that often they will not give at all unless they get something back in the way of entertainment or of goods. There can be few of us who read this story without shame. (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Mark (revised), p. 302)
The gift of this woman reflected the sacrifice our Savior made for us. It wasn’t to preserve our earthly lives that he hung on that cross. He gave himself into the hands of those who hated him in order that we might be rescued from the eternal judgment of God against the sin that destroyed our connection to him. Satan lobbed the hand grenade of sin into the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve were slain by the guilt their sin incurred. That sinful condition has brought every form of sin and death into our own lives. Christ sacrificed himself that we might be set free from our sinful self-centeredness which drives us to take false pride in our less-than-sacrificial giving. The writer of Hebrews said it most clearly:
...[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (9:26).
What this woman did should drive us to shame. But what Christ has done delivers us from it all. He gave all he had in order to give us life eternal.
III. REAL GIVING IS AN ACT OF FAITH
What was it that led to this radical, sacrificial, real giving of the woman at the temple? It was ultimately an act of pure faith. While her gift was not large in itself, it was huge in relationship to what she had:
“...she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (44).
Recall the First Reading for this day. A famine had taken hold of the whole region of Palestine as Elijah prophesied. God instructed Elijah to go to Zarephath, outside the borders of Israel, and seek out a widow who would provide him with food and shelter. When he arrived, he found this widow gathering some sticks to prepare a final meal for herself and her young son before starvation would set in. At the word of Elijah, however, the woman took the last of her flour and oil and prepared bread for the prophet. Then we read:
And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:15-16).
When the woman of our text brought her offering, she made it in true faith.
“...out of her poverty...put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (44).
She trusted the word of the psalmist:
Blessèd is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,....
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,.... (146:5, 9a).
This is real faith. This is real giving.
It’s the kind of real giving we find in our Savior. The events of our text occurred during what we call Holy Week. Jesus had set the stage for his betrayal, arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion. He knew exactly what was to take place. When he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew his Father’s will and submitted to it willingly. He entrusted himself completely to his Father’s care. It is this real giving in faith to which the writer of Hebrews refers:
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. ...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (9:24, 26).
In his real giving in faith we are redeemed from our lack of faith in our giving. Jesus paid the price we could never pay. He gave himself in perfect faith to rescue us from our faithless giving. In his real giving in faith we are empowered to give of ourselves, all that we are and all that we have to whatever opportunity he sets before us.
My first congregation was in Worland, Wyoming. There was a coffee shop that I would occasionally visit and congregate with some of the businessmen of the town. One morning, a fellow was complaining about how much he had to give to his church. “I have to give ten percent of my entire income every year. I even have to show them my tax return to prove it.” Then he turned to me and asked, “What does your church charge?” ‘Oh, I don’t think you’d like our church,” I answered; “We want everything!” Perhaps that wasn’t a particularly helpful answer. But somehow I think Jesus might have responded in like manner. After all, he told the one young man who approached him with a similar question:
“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mk 10:21).
He also told his disciples,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mk 8:34).
This is real giving. It must come from the root of who we are, who we have been made to be in Christ, whose heart has rescued us from our sin. It must be sacrificial, giving of our whole selves, as Christ gave himself fully into death to deliver us from the grave our sin has earned. It is ultimately an act of faith, entrusting ourselves fully to the promises of God, reflecting the faith our Savior placed in his father and accomplishing our forgiveness and freedom from Satan’s hold on our heart. Amen.