Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Search this site.View the site map.

Giving God All We Have

Mark 12:38-44

 One of the saddest things that can happen in any religion is when people use God as a means to an end.  And unfortunately, it happens too often.  It may be the national cases that attract the most attention; televangelists who make millions off of their ministries.  But it also happens at the local level.  In the years that I’ve been involved in the United Methodist Church in Western PA, I know of two cases of clergy being expelled from ministry for some type of financial wrongdoing, using their position for personal gain.  It is a temptation that must always be guarded against.  God himself is the great end, and he should never be used as a means to an end.

 Here in Mark 12, we see Jesus criticizing the Teachers of the Law for doing that very thing.  This was probably something that happened too often because of the great respect and prestige given to teachers in Hebrew society.  

 These Teachers of the Law were not “professionals.”  They were not paid to go around teaching people the Law.  Each of them was supposed to have a “second career” by which they supported themselves financially.  For example, the Apostle Paul, himself a Pharisee at one time, supported himself by making tents.  But not all of them did that.  They often received some measure of financial support from benefactors, people who gave them gifts to continue their teaching careers.

 That in itself was not necessarily wrong.  It’s not wrong for a person to be “professionally” in service to God.  Or at least I sure hope it isn’t wrong, since that’s what I’m doing.  But there were always a corrupt few who used their position to enrich themselves at the expense of others, and from Jesus’ comments, it seems that widows were a favorite target of the corrupt.

 “Beware of these teachers,” Jesus says.  “They love to wear long, flowing robes.”  The thing about a long, flowing robe is you can’t work in it.  They had no interest in doing any kind of labor when they could enjoy the prestige of their position.  “They love to be greeted everywhere they go.  They love the seats of honor in the synagogue and at banquets.”  In the synagogue, they loved to sit up front where everyone could see them.  At a banquet, they insisted on being seated next to the host, which was the position of greatest honor.  “They love to make long prayers in public,” so everyone will see how pious and holy they are.

 And all the while, they were engaged in shameless acts of injustice.  They had great status in society, but they used it to take money from poor widows, those who had very little status in society.  

 In Matthew chapter 23, which is the parallel passage to this one, Jesus says to these Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, even the herbs from your garden, but you ignore the most important parts of the Law- justice, mercy, faith.  You should tithe, yes, but not leave the important things undone.”  What’s the point of tithing or making long prayers if you are not doing the things God desires the most – justice, mercy, and faithfulness?  

 And we should compare them to the faith of the poor widow.  

Jesus goes out from his hostile confrontation with the religious authorities and sits down opposite the Temple Treasury.  The Temple Treasury was in the “Court of Women,” which was the second courtyard of the Temple.  It consisted of 13 or 14 large boxes, the exact number is uncertain.  Each of them was topped with a Shofar, a large trumpet shaped opening.  And each was designated for a different purpose in the life of the Temple. 

It made quite a racket when a rich person came and placed a large amount of money in the trumpet.  And that was probably the point, to call attention to those who gave large gifts. 

But in the midst of the rich coming and putting in large amounts, Jesus’ attention is drawn to a poor widow who comes and puts in two small coins.  We call them the widow’s mites, but the technical name was that they were leptons.  Lepton means “Thin one.”  They were the smallest and least valuable coins in circulation in first century Judea.  Each was worth only 1/64 of a denarius, which was the minimum daily wage of the day.  So if you were to compare them to today, when the minimum hourly wage is about $8, the minimum daily wage would be $64, so the equivalent in today’s money is that each would be worth about a dollar.  For the sake of his Roman readers, Mark tells them that they were about the same as the kodrantes, which was the equivalent Roman coin.  

What was so little in comparison to so much?  The Jerusalem Temple was a place of fabulous wealth.  Among other things, the front of the temple was decorated with clusters of grapes cast out of gold.  Each one was said to be the size of a full grown man.  In comparison with all that wealth, in comparison with the large gifts of others, what were two leptons worth?  

In the eyes of God, they were worth very much.  Because she is the one that Jesus praises for her generosity.  She gave all she had.  Her gift was worth more to God than those of the rich, because they gave out of their excess, and she gave sacrificially.  

Compared to the Teachers of the Law who saw all this “God stuff” as a means to personal prestige, her motives were pure.  Even if what she gave was misused, even if it was

added to the extravagances of the place rather than being used to serve others, her motives were pure.  She wanted to give to God because she loved God. 

She gave more than all the others.  God considers the ability of the giver to give and the motives in which it is given, not the amount of the gift.  

She gave all she had.  And coincidentally, that’s exactly what Jesus was about to do.  In Mark’s Gospel, this is the last public appearance of Jesus before the crucifixion.  Jesus is about to give all he had, which is the purest and highest gift any of us can give to God.  

How should we give to God?  

First of all, we give for the glory of God and not the glory of self.  Our motive should be to see God glorified and not to receive honor ourselves.  

Second, we should give sacrificially.  Sacrifice was the gift of Jesus on the cross.  Sacrifice was the gift of this poor widow, who gave even what she had to live on, trusting God to provide.  What are you willing to live without for the sake of the glory of God?  

I think we should also see that there’s a certain recklessness to her giving.  She had two coins.  She certainly could have given one and kept the other.  No one would have criticized her for that.  Yet she recklessly gave both.  Are we reckless in our giving?  

But, practically speaking, how do we give to God?  

Should we tithe?  Should we give one-tenth to God?  Some Christians say yes.  Others say, “No, that’s Old Testament.  We’re called to give sacrificially.”  

It’s true that tithing is from the Old Testament.  But Jesus also endorsed the practice of tithing.  My opinion is that tithing should be seen as the foundation of giving to God.  I think tithing should be the beginning of how we look at money and giving.  But it’s not the last word.    

Because God wants all of us.  What do we do with the rest?  If we tithe, give 1/10 of our treasures to God, what do we do with the rest?  What do we do with our time?  What do we do with the rest of our treasures?  What do we do with our talents, our abilities?  God wants all of us, and the true gift we give to God is “all we have.”  We should see each day as an opportunity to give God all we have, to use all we have available to us to bring honor and glory to God.  If we only give “out of our surplus,” then we really aren’t that different from those whom Jesus criticized for wanting to honor themselves rather than honoring God.   

Verse of the Day...