What does how we give our money say about us?
There is a beautiful short story hidden at the end of Mark 12 that doesn’t get enough attention.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
One thing i noticed about it yesterday, for the first time ever, is that phrase, ‘Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd’ – it all seems to very intentional. Jesus was planning something, gathered the evidence, and then used it as a teaching lesson for His followers [another interesting point i picked up was how in this case Jesus calls His disciples to Him for the lesson – He doesn’t publically endorse the widow or shame the rich people in this case].
Consider the Context
We need to remember that the original version of the Scriptures did not have chapters and headings and, as is so often the case, context has a lot to teach us. Consider the above story in the context of the verses that precede them:
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Adds a whole new dimension, right? Relationship between the rich and the poor. The idea of being seen and acknowledged and praised by the crowds [look how much money i am donating] and the treatment of the widow who represents the poor and marginalised.
i made this my Facebook status this morning as a reminder to all of us:
If the Jesus you worship today doesn’t move you towards compassion for the poor and marginalised in some kind of practical way, then let me suggest that perhaps you are not following Jesus at all.
Another significant point that my friend Ashley raised from the first story is that despite the huge amount of money the rich person threw into the offering box, there was no cost for him. He didn’t feel it. Whereas, for the widow, there was the hugest cost and the risk of personal injury if God did not come through for her and supply her needs.
So often we get excited when billionaire’s like Bill Gates and others donate millions of dollars, but in reality they most of the time don’t even notice it. Their giving doesn’t inform their lifestyle.
Beware the building
When i say the word “church” how many of us instantly picture a building? Church is actually the people of God doing the things of God [anywhere, anytime, any way] but many of us, whether we will admit it or not, typically think of the building we go to on a sunday, hence the term “go to church” which i imagine would have been so foreign to Jesus and His followers.
How can you go to who you are? Or who you are meant to be at least.
But let’s look at the next couple of verses, the first two in chapter 13 and see if that helps establish more context:
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
When the focus shifts to the building, Jesus is not impressed.
Which begs the question, how much do we focus on the building. How much of the money that comes in goes to buildings and how much of it goes to see that widows [and orphans by extension, or the marginalised and struggling in general] are looked after?
If you are a part of a church congregation, do you even know how your church spends the money that comes in? Do you know what the leaders are being paid? Make a point of finding out this week.
What does how we give our money say about us?
What comments do you think Jesus would make in His disciple huddle about the way that you and your family give their money?
From my mate Sean Du Toit: The widow is the victim in the story, not an example of fidelity, which is why Jesus pronounces judgement on the temple and those associated with the temple. The whole temple narrative from Mark 11:15-13:2 is focussed on Jesus response to those associated with the temple and it’s not good.
Some Extra Further Thoughts
My friend Sean does not see Jesus as commending the widow’s offering and we differ there, but he has added a whole lot of super helpful thoughts in terms of the systemic and structural injustice that was at work at the time:
The point of the lavish gifts is that it is misplaced. It goes to the long robes and the banquets in the previous section instead of to those who need it, i.e., the widow. Jesus doesn’t offer any specific judgement on the giving. The text is completely silent about that, so I can’t read into it any judgement. But what is explicit in the text is the following:
Mark 11:15-26 Judgement on the Temple
Mark 11:27-33 Jesus’ authority is questioned.
Mark 12:1-12 The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Mark 12:13-17 The Question about Paying Taxes
Mark 12:18-27 The Question about the Resurrection
Mark 12:28-34 The first Commandment
Mark 12:35-37 The Question about David’s Son
Mark 12:38-40 Jesus Denounces the Scribes
Mark 12:41-44 The Widow’s Offering
Mark 13:1-2 Judgement on the Temple
In each of these scenes, except the question of the first commandment, we have Jesus offering a critique of the temple and those associated with the temple. The greatest commandment passage is at the centre of this conflict, and it seems as if Mark has arranged these episodes to climax with Jesus leaving the temple and offering a judgement because a) they don’t recognise Jesus’ authority, b) they are the wicked tenants, c) they’re comprised with the emperor, d) they don’t understand the Scriptures and the power of God, e) some appear to grasp a key summary statement of Torah, but not the implications of that summary, f) they don’t realise David’s Lord is before them, h) they’re self-centred and devouring the marginalised, i) an explicit case of a widow being devoured, j) a oracle of judgement.
The theology and contemporary significance of this passage is sobering. Any community or system that claims to represent God but fails to look after those in need stand under the judgement of God. There’s no place for a positive example of faithfulness in this story of conflict between Jesus and the temple.