Mark 12:38-44 (24th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 27—Series B)
“Giving from Abundance or Lack”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 8, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is today’s Gospel lesson, from Mark 12:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 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.”
Why did she do it? Why did this poor widow put every last cent she had to live on into the offering plate? Was she just a crazy lady? Maybe she was throwing in the towel, giving up in her poverty, and this was her last hurrah. But look how Jesus holds her up as an example. The Lord commends her, but not for the amount that she put into the Temple treasury. The widow was commended by Jesus for her trust and generosity. This poor, husbandless woman trusted that she would be provided for in her need and so she responded in gratitude by giving to the needs of others, putting in her gift for the Lord to use in order to bless others.
The Church Father St. John Chrysostom wrote, “If you calculate by the value of her money, her poverty is great. If you bring her intention into the light, you will see that her store of generosity defies description.” Jesus points us to this widow in order to illustrate the character of absolute dependence on God. The whole of her possessions, the last of her money, two measly coins, she drops into the offering plate. She can only do this as a result of the trust that had been given to her as a gift of the Gospel. She had God’s promise in His Word, for example, from Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” She had the example of how God provided for the widow at Zarephath in the days of Elijah the prophet, as we heard in the Old Testament lesson, “And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the world of Yahweh that He spoke by Elijah.” (1 Kings 17:15-16) The promises of God in the Gospel bestow faith, trust in God that He will provide “all that we need to support this body and life,” and the Gospel generates charitableness as a response to God’s good news promises.
Let’s now shift our gaze from looking at the widow in the Temple to looking at ourselves. We asked of the widow, “Why did she do it?” Ask yourself now, “Why do you do it? Why do you put into the offering place what you put in?” It’s a lot harder to ask the question of yourself, isn’t it? Some self-examination questions: do you put into the offering plate with the attitude of the Scribes—hey, look at me, I’m giving! Do you put into the offering plate with the attitude of the rich—look how much I can put in! Look what a top supporter I am! Do you put into the offering plate with a feeling of embarrassment, knowing full well that you are not giving what you certainly can afford to give? Or do you put into the plate sacrificially, more than you can afford, trusting in the Lord’s gracious providing for you?
I can assure you that I have absolutely no idea what you put into the plate each week. I can assure you that I will never know what you put into the offering. That’s between you and the Lord to whom you give back from the gifts He has blessed you with, in abundance or in lack. Nor will you ever hear it preached from this pulpit, “Thou shalt give X amount.” “Thou shalt give” is Law. The Law forces; the Law compels. The Word of the Lord says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You cannot give cheerfully when it is mandated. You cannot give what you have decided in your heart when the amount has been decided for you. It is not a gift, then, but a fee or a tax. The widow in our text gave, not from compulsion, not because of a “have to,” but freely and cheerfully. That is Gospel-giving, and that is real giving.
In the New Testament, the churches were taking up an offering to help the saints in the church at Jerusalem. Paul gives us an example of Gospel-giving in 2 Corinthians 8, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:1-3). Why did they do that? Because the Gospel produced trust and generosity.
Jesus Christ demonstrated complete trust in the will of God the Father. His love for His Father and for His fallen creation caused God the Son to take on human flesh and to live among us. When tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus remained faithful to the Father. He did not bow down and worship the evil one. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus did the will of His Father. He kept the Law perfectly. He obeyed all of the commandments. He proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He loved and cared for the unlovable—tax collectors and sinners. He healed the sick of all their diseases. In His earthly life, He gave of Himself completely to the will of His Father to bring the reign and rule of God to a people lost and hurting and in need of life. And yet, Jesus had nothing to call His own, no place to lay His head.
Then came the ultimate giving of Himself. He trusted the heavenly Father to the end. In Gethsemane’s Garden Christ prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus Christ then went to the cross in order to suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. Jesus endured God the Father’s wrath and punishment against our sins as He suffered hell in our place on the cross. But He never stopped trusting. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Jesus gave us His all. He gave up His very life into death so that we would have life and have it in abundance forever.
That is the Gospel message. That is the good news that is proclaimed to you this day. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. He suffered hell for you. He shed His blood for you. He rose again from death for you. Now you have the complete forgiveness of sins. Now you have eternal life. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel Word and the Sacraments, delivers these precious gifts of faith, forgiveness, and salvation to you personally. You are able to believe in Jesus Christ as your only Savior from sin, Satan, and death. You are able to trust that God the Father will indeed, as surely as He has said so in His Word, take care of you and provide for you all that you need to support this body and life. It is the Gospel that produces this trust in you by grace through faith as you cling to His Word of Promise.
Thus you and I trust in the Lord to provide and to care for us both spiritually through the Means of the Gospel and Sacraments, and physically as well. “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me,” Luther writes in the Small Catechism’s Explanation to the First Article of the Creed. But Pastor Luther continued and wrote, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” He concluded the Explanation to the Second Article saying that Jesus shed His blood for us, redeeming us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, so that “I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
The Gospel produces faith, trust in God through Jesus Christ that we are saved from our sins by the sacrificial life and death of Jesus alone. The Gospel produces trust in us so that we cling to God’s Word of promise that He will take care of us in this life too. And the Gospel also produces in us the fruit of that faith—generosity.
Jesus’ love and sacrifice motivate us to offer our whole lives to Him as our daily offering of gratitude. As we thank and praise and serve our Lord, motivated by His Gospel, we give freely and generously of what He has given us. The Gospel is the reason why we put into the offering plate what we put into the offering plate. We don’t give to be seen by others. We don’t give to demonstrate our wealth or prowess. We do not give under compulsion. No, we give freely and joyfully of all that we are and have because Jesus gave freely and joyfully of Himself in order to save us and then to empower us to be generous with our money, our goods, our time, and our abilities. We are generous with the fullness of grace that God has given to us in Jesus Christ so that you and I willingly to give back to the Lord for His Kingdom work, above and beyond what we might even think we can.
What Chrysostom said of the poor widow, I pray, might be said of you, “If you bring [their] intention into the light, you will see that [their] store of generosity defies description.” By the power of the Gospel that declares you not guilty of sin, forgiven in Jesus Christ; by the power of the Gospel that produces within you trust and generosity, so live, and trust, and give. Motivated by the Gospel promises of God in Christ your Savior, offer your whole life and all that you have to Him in thanksgiving for “the everythings” He has given to you. Let our community see that the stores of your generosity defy description. Amen.