A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on November 14, 2010.
I have found nothing good about the marriage sabbatical that Jackie is on. Most of you know that Jackie fell a month ago while visiting our daughter, son-in-law and their three-year-old twins who live in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She tripped over a ball and fell on concrete. As a result, she broke both wrists and has had two surgeries, with another to follow in December. Hopefully, she will be able to return home before Christmas.
As I said, I have found nothing good about this temporary separation…until last week. All the Christmas catalogs are landing in our mailbox and you know where else they land, in the bottom of the garbage can! I am certainly not going to send these up to her even though one member told me that flipping through the pages of a catalog is good therapy for regaining strength in broken wrists.
I will say, however, that one of the catalogs grabbed my attention and caused me to take a second look. I saved it for two reasons. First of all, it has Chico’s written boldly across the top and I thought it was a Mexican Restaurant. I don’t throw anything away these days that could be a source of food. Thumbing through it, I quickly discovered it had nothing to do with food, unless you can eat jewelry and clothing.
The second reason I saved this catalog was because of the slogan that was on the front cover, “Spend Wisely and Give Wildly.” I could hardly believe my eyes. This was exactly what the widow in our text did and the reason Jesus singled her out that day while sitting in the temple treasury.
“Would have made a great sermon title,” I thought to myself on Saturday night. “At least it is not too late to use it in the morning, though.”
So, here’s the catalog that will go the way of the others as soon as this sermon is over. I am confident I am using this marketing tool in ways that this store never dreamed. I am also certain they would not object to me doing so. After all, their catalog has gotten a lot of exposure this morning!
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and spent the early days of Passover teaching in the temple. Since this was the only time he went to Jerusalem in Mark’s gospel, he was just days away from being crucified. He sensed the danger he was in, but this did not mute his voice. Each day, he exposed the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders and challenged them to put the people’s interests ahead of their own. This is clearly seen in the opening words of our text.
“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely” Mark 12: 38-40.
Perhaps Jesus took a break from teaching and confronting the Pharisees when he sat down near the temple treasury, a place somewhere between the Court of the Women and the Court of the Gentiles where people gave their freewill offerings and paid their temple taxes. There were thirteen receptacles there, commonly called trumpets because they resembled them. Worshipers were expected to put something in all thirteen because each trumpet supported a portion of the work that went on at the temple.
One by one, people would walk over to the treasury, announce how much money they were contributing and place their coins in the trumpets. Of course, the larger the coins, the more noise they would make. I’m sure large offerings got people’s attention and turned their heads, much like big pay-offs do at the one-arm bandits in a casino…so I’ve heard.
I have no doubt that no one would have noticed the obscure widow mentioned in our text and what she gave that day in the temple. After all, she only had two coins to give and they were the smallest coins minted, each worth just a fraction of a penny.
Who would hear these tiny coins as they slid down the trumpets? Surely no one would have noticed had Jesus not been there. So moved was he, however, by what he witnessed that he called his disciples over to tell them what happened and declare that this anonymous widow was the biggest contributor of the day.
“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” Mark 12: 43-44.
Like you, I have read and studied this text on many occasions. Last week, as I pondered it once again, three questions emerged that help me see it from a different perspective.
Why did this widow do this? Why did Jesus single her out? Why did Mark share this story with his readers? Examine these questions with me for a few minutes.
Why did this widow give those two coins that day? I think it indicates how important her faith and this community of faith were to her. Based upon what she did that day, it would be hard to make a case for anything else being more important to her.
In all likelihood, her life changed dramatically after her husband died, as it did for most widows in that culture. Without her husband’s financial support, she lived in abject poverty. Jesus indicated she was actually down to her final two coins and she put both of them in the temple treasury that day.
This was one reason Jesus was so hard on the religious leaders in this passage. One of their primary duties, according to the prophets, was to take widows under the shelter of their wings and help them. They were perilously vulnerable, especially if they had no family to take care of them.
Not only were some of the religious leaders ignoring their responsibility to take care of widows, they were making life harder for them by foreclosing on their homes. Who knows, this may have been one of the very ones they had put out on the street. Yet, here she was in the temple giving her last penny to support the work they were entrusted to do.
Who would have faulted her for not contributing that day or at least giving just one coin? I can think of no one, including Jesus. As Dr. Alan Culpepper writes, “Jesus had already castigated the Pharisees and some scribes from Jerusalem for permitting wealth dedicated to the Temple to be exempt from the command to care for one’s parents.”
So, why did she do it? Her faith and this faith community were too important in her life for her to walk away from them. She probably gave up a lot of things in order to survive, but this was not one of them.
As long as she could, she would go to the temple with her neighbors, worshiping God and giving her offerings. Even if she could bring nothing but herself as her offering, she would continue to do this. Her faith and this faith community were too important to her to abandon them.
Why did Jesus single her out and lavish her with praise? I think he was impressed with her behavior. It was such a contrast to the greedy religious leaders whom she was supporting. It lifted his spirit to find one who was truly “pure in heart.”
I think it also inspired him to give his all. If she could give everything she had that day, and do it humbly and quietly, then he could follow her example in the days ahead. I think her quiet generosity helped him to be faithful all the way to the cross.
There is a gospel song by the title, “When He Was on the Cross, I Was on His Mind.” Perhaps that is true. However, I am more certain that when he was on the cross, this poor widow was on his mind. Her simple act of generosity enabled him to give everything he had.
Why did Mark share this story with his readers? He wanted to inspire them to be as faithful and generous as she was.
Life was tough for Mark’s readers. Living under Nero’s reign of terror was frightening and being treated disrespectfully by the religious leaders of their day was discouraging. What were they to do?
For sure, they were not to abandon their faith or even quit practicing it. They needed God and they needed each other more than ever. It was not a time to withdraw and become isolated, but to remain engaged and faithful. Mark knew this and reminded them by sharing this story.
I believe this year’s stewardship theme is one of our finest: “Taking the Next Step—Generosity in Action: Giving to God; Giving for Others; Giving with Believers.”
In the previous two weeks, we looked at giving to God and giving for others. This week our focus is upon giving with fellow believers.
I believe it was giving with others and adding her small contribution to theirs that this widow was unwilling to give up, regardless of how poor she was. She did not ask for an exemption nor would she have accepted one. She needed to be a part of this act of worship and the community of faith that shared this belief.
I do, too. All my life I have been a person of faith and part of a church that enabled me to practice that faith. I cannot imagine life without either.
I know the church is not perfect. It wasn’t in Mark’s day and will not be in ours, either. I know how important the church is, however, in helping people to practice their faith.
Outside of family, the relationships that I have developed and cultivated in church have been the most rewarding and meaningful in my life. With fellow believers, I have sung the songs of faith in worship, learned life’s most valuable lessons in Bible study, met the needs of people near and far through missions and received grace and strength in the most trying times of my life.
Would I be involved in church if I were not the pastor? Would I invest my life and resources in the work of the church? Yes, I believe I would.
My grandparents did. My parents did. My three brothers do. I believe I would, too.
What about you?