Have you ever thought you had privacy when you really have not? There is something about putting on a full-face motorcycle helmet that can make you think you have as much privacy as sitting in a car, and so I have heard at least one motorcyclist singing at the top of his lungs while waiting for a light to turn green! We take privacy seriously at Calvary and have all the policies and procedures in place to ensure people’s givings are kept confidential. I am not aware of what people give. But one thing we cannot do is ensure that giving is kept hidden from the Lord’s eyes. Let us consider one moment that Jesus was watching the offerings:
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 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. 44 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 (NRSV)
A few questions may help us get into this passage:
1. Who is the example of generosity?
The rich put in a lot of money while the poor widow put in very little. Yet according to Jesus she is the example of generosity for she is making the greater sacrifice. Suppose I were to peach on tithing and everyone walked away convicted that they ought to give 10% of their income. Now suppose one such person earns a million a year, and therefore commits to giving $100,000 a year. We would certainly celebrate such generosity and the opportunities it would grant a small church like ours to increase in mission and ministry. Now suppose a single mom with children and rent earning $25,000 a year commits $2500. Who is more generous? I do not know this from experience but I would think you could live quite comfortably on $900,000 a year. I also do not know this from experience but I would think a family living on $25,000 per year would miss the $2500 very much.
Now we need to make a decision. By commending the generosity of the poor widow is Jesus commanding those of little means to give what little they have or is he challenging those with abundance to break through to greater generosity? For the rich, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it please the Lord? For the poor, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it further cripple people who are already financially beaten down? Which leads us to our next question.
2. Is Jesus celebrating or lamenting?
We tend to assume that Jesus is celebrating the generosity of the poor widow here. However some Biblical scholars think rather that Jesus is lamenting over what he sees. Consider what Jesus said immediately before this:
38 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, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 (NRSV emphasis mine)
What we may have here is Jesus pointing to the poor widow as an example of someone who is “devoured” by the religious leaders. That she, “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (v.44) may be something regrettable. It is worth noting that Jesus next speaks about the destruction of the temple. The poor widow has just given all she had to support something that will soon be under judgement.
Or perhaps we have both, that along with a condemnation of the scribes’ warped religiosity is a commendation of the widow’s generosity. The religious leaders are looking to take all the poor widow has to live on, and soon they will be looking to take the life of Jesus. But the poor widow’s heart is generous and she gives what she has to live on, pointing forward to the supreme example of generosity, Jesus, who gives His life.
We can tend to get pretty religious when it comes to financial support for the church. Jesus has a lot to say about money, yet he never directly commands or commends a tithe. Nor does it appear to be a theme within the early Church as we encounter it in the New Testament. But generosity is something that is very much commended by our Lord and the apostles. Generosity is a character trait the Holy Spirit develops within us as we yield our lives to the Lord. The question is not “are you tithing” but “are you being generous toward the Lord’s work?” What generosity looks like will be different for each person. 10% may be a good goal for a great many, but it may not be wise for some, and may not be generous for others. We do well to drive not deeper into religion, but deeper into our relationship with Christ to discern the answer to that question. Which leads us to our final question:
3. If we were the ones Jesus watched putting our offering into the treasury that day, what would He say?
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