Mark 12:41-44

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 12:41-44

Oh Oh! Now he’s preaching!! Suddenly Jesus digs the knife a little deeper for the hypocritical scribes and Sadducees. He hits them in the wallet. In front of the crowd, no less!

The rich people put in large sums. Oh, how impressed we are with rich people and large sums. Maybe it has always been that way. There is nothing new about materialism and greed. The Bible has plenty of rich heroes.

Despite Abraham’s humble beginnings, not only did he become a hero of the faith, he also became a very wealthy man. To focus on his wealth twists the story into equating wealth with being blessed by God’s special favor. (NOTE: Beware of those who constantly talk about “God’s favor” in talking about the Christian faith.)

Solomon was born in David’s palace and soon parlayed that head start with an obnoxious accumulation of wealth, splendor, hundreds of wives and concubines, and all of the idols they brought into his life. All that proved his downfall yet we still somehow respect someone who turns the millions they are born with into even more millions. (NOTE: Beware of those who are born into money and forget the advantages that gives them for the rest of their lives.)

But wealth alone doesn’t do it. It isn’t enough. It is what wealth can buy. But that isn’t enough either. It really is about how other people think of you when they see the signs of your ostentatious wealth. It is about honor and privilege, about fame and acclaim. As Jesus said yesterday, “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!”

I know a few people of great wealth who do not define themselves by their money. They see their wealth as a gift of God that comes with a deep responsibility to be a good steward. They know that, for those to whom much is given, much is required. 

Bottom line – even though we do it all the time, we can’t judge a person by their bank accounts, their stuff, or their charitable contributions. It isn’t about what we have; it is always about what we do with what we have. And beyond that, it is about noticing the societal systems we set up and defend that create ever greater advantages for the rich to get richer while keeping the poor poorer.

Enter, the widow. Remember that Jesus has just pointed out how the scribes abuse widows like her? Now she comes before them as a model of financial stewardship. She gives all she has. Why? What else ought she do with her last two copper coins? She gives it all away. She casts herself completely on God’s care and keeping. Her gift is an act of trust.

The rich give large sums. Good for them The work of the temple requires financial support. And if their hearts are in the right place, such gifts are good for the giver too. But, no matter how much they give, rest assured that they have will have plenty left over. But the widow gave all she had with no back up plan. No back up plan beyond trusting God.

Life in America is never perfect, we are always striving to be better. But today we don’t let widows starve. We have established systems of social support that take care of people who need it. We have learned that, when we share out of what we have, there is always enough for everybody.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, protect us from the subtle idolatry of greed and materialism. Teach us to do the best we can with what we have, always mindful that all that we are, and all that we have, is a gracious gift from you. Teach us to be good stewards, including provision for the common good, lest anyone be left behind without access to the basic necessities of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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