44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’ (v44)
Read Mark 12:38-44
It’s always best not to take the passage you’re preaching on out of its context, and here’s a case in point, as Mark gives us a couple of Jesus’s sayings, one related to the teachers of the law, and the other to a poor widow, quite a contrast in social standing at the very least. The readings over the past few weeks have taken us on a whistle-stop tour of Jesus’s life as he gets ever closer to the Cross. They skipped over the entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) because that would be a bit confusing as we approach Advent, and picked up last week with Jesus talking to one of the teachers of the law, and one who actually seemed to be interested in hearing what Jesus had to say, rather than trying to catch him out – because there’s no doubt that many of them were desperate to get rid of Jesus, as he was really getting on their nerves with his teaching, particularly where it impacted on their own interpretation of the law and the way that they conducted their lives and abused their position.
So, there was a bit of history between Jesus and the teachers of the law. Jesus always ready to take them on and discuss anything they threw at him, and the teachers hating him more every time he opened his mouth!
This episode finds Jesus in the temple courts, with people crowded round listening to his teaching. No doubt there were a few temple officials and teachers of the law around, and now perhaps Jesus looks up and sees another one going past, maybe glaring at Jesus as he passes.
Look at them, says Jesus to those around him, so many of them walking around like they own the place, happy to be addressed as ‘Rabbi’, ‘Father’ or ‘Master’. Sitting in the best seats in front of the ark of the covenant, loving the invites to banquets, dependent on gifts and patrons for their income, happy to prey on wealthy widows. The world revolves around them, and the honour goes to them instead of God who they profess to serve. But be assured, he tells them, they’ll get their comeuppance one of these days!
You can sense Jesus’s frustrations and anger in his words, an emotion that we’re possibly not used to when thinking about him.
Then, there’s a bit of a break in Mark’s narrative. Maybe Jesus had said all he wanted to say, or perhaps he needed a break, stretch his legs, see what else was going on in the temple courts, wait for his disciples to appear. We catch up with him as he sits down and looks across to where the temple offerings were put into the treasury collecting vessels, and he sees his disciples and calls them across to where he’s sitting. He’s got another teaching point for them, and as ever, he uses the ordinary things that happen around him to make a spiritual point.
Maybe you can imagination him there. Perhaps you’ve done the same, sat on a bench somewhere and watch people going by, wondering about them, where they’ve come from, where they’re going, some laughing, some arguing, others quiet or deep in thought.
Jesus had been in and around the temple for a while, after his triumphal entry with the palm branches scattered before him. He was probably in a thoughtful mood now, pondering over what lay ahead for him. He’d overturned tables near here just recently, condemned the profiteering that went on over sacrificial offerings. Now he sees the rich throwing their offerings into the special trumpet-shaped offering chests, each coin echoing loudly as if hitting a bell. You can even hear how wonderfully generous they are.
Not so the poor widow’s contribution, two small coins which tinkled into the free-will offering box. But it’s her action, quiet, almost unnoticed above the bustle and noise around them that Jesus picks up on, and for a very simple lesson to his disciples. The rich folk entering may well have been very generous in their size of their offerings, but they would also leave the temple as wealthy individuals, nothing would really change.
The widow was poor and gave from her poverty. She would go home and struggle to find enough to eat through the week. The trumpet ringing to the sound of the rich tossing in their silver might have dwarfed the quiet tinkle of a couple of copper coins dropped in the box, but what Jesus wanted them to think about was what was really going on in the hearts of those people? The religious leaders would much prefer to hear the sound of those trumpet chests, but God sees it differently.
You see It’s not about the capacity of the wallet, but rather of a giver’s heart. The woman gives God all of her heart, soul, and substance. Jesus is about to make an even greater sacrifice himself. The widow was actually pretty radical in her offering, because in giving all she had, she was putting her trust in God to provide for her needs through the week.
And that’s where this particular story ends. But it doesn’t really, because there’s another way of looking at it, not from the point of view of money and one poor woman’s sacrificial offering, but about our own attitudes to God, our worship, and our own offering, not just of money (though as the Circuit Treasurer’s husband I feel obliged to add that!) but the offering of our hearts and lives. Because God is less concerned about how knowledgeable we are about theology and doctrine, and much more concerned about our relationship with God and neighbour – brought up in our lectionary reading last week I believe. The two greatest commandments, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbour as yourself.
It was a sacrificial offering that the widow gave, one to help those in need, and a sacrificial offering was what Jesus gave, for all of humankind. I’m not going to suggest that they are directly comparable, but Jesus saw something beautiful and extravagant in that lady as she brought her offering, worship and her life humbly into the presence of God.