Mark 12:38-44

“As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 

Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:38-44

The word “economy” means “the process or system by which goods and services are exchanged among people.” It comes from a Greek word which referred to the management of a household. At its root, it means how a community of people choose to cooperate with one another. Into this system comes the idea of money.

Gold is valuable because people decided at some point to put a high value on it. It is relatively rare and portable so it worked well in the exchange of goods and services. But it was heavy so at some point paper money became the means of exchange. Today, value passes between people via electronic data. But whatever the means of exchange, the underlying principle remains the same – people use their skills to produce goods and services that are “valued” in the marketplace and exchanged for other goods and services. That is how life worked in Jesus’ day too.

Alongside this central core of the economy comes two other uses of money. Taxes and charitable giving. Taxes, levied by every level of government, is coercive. That is you get into trouble if you don’t pay your taxes. Your only choice is to do what you are supposed to do or you will get punished for it. Charitable giving, what you give to the church or the Red Cross or any other helping organization, is entirely voluntary. The government, seeing the value that such organizations bring to life, encourages charitable giving by allowing for a small tax savings benefit, but charitable giving remains completely optional.

So it was the Jesus saw rich people putting large sums of money into the temple treasury and he didn’t have much good to say about them. But, when a poor widow put in all she had to live on, he praises her.  Why? Because she is totally relying on God to take care of her and her life. She doesn’t have anything else. But the rich people are free to still trust in their wealth since all they gave was a little extra.

This old story still invites us to think more deeply about how we use our money. Very few of those of you reading this will ever get “down to your last penny” in your lives. None of you are forced to give any of your money to the church or any other charity. Some of you are very wealthy. The question this story asks of us is this – Rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, what place does giving generously fit into the management of our households?

And when we give, are we giving out of trust and gratitude, are we just following our tax strategy, or do we just keep everything for ourselves? If we could sit down with Jesus for a conversation about how we use our money, given that he sees everything, what might he say to us?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for the generosity that you have implanted into the hearts of people who provide the resources that free charitable organizations to do their work. Thank you for the privilege of using our money to be helpful in ways and places where we cannot go. Thank you for the witness of this poor widow. May her example encourage each of us to give from our hearts, trusting that you will take care of our needs. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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