GOD’S TWO Cents Worth!
The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. S. D. Spencer - Pastor
In his teaching Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 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. 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.”
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
When I was growing up I use to walk to school almost everyday. In between home and school was a little mom and pop shop called Max’s Meat Market. It was a butcher shop but had some other grocery items. But best of all it had plenty of 1 cent candy. We would stop by there on our way home from school and get our 2 cents worth of licorice or gum balls or whatever we wanted to buy that day. There are two things I remember most clearly about that place. One is that you could get an awful lot of candy for 2 cents back then. But the other thing was a sign he had under the glass at the checkout counter. Under that thick plate glass was a sign that said: “IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS MUST PAY CASH!” That was the first place I ever saw that sign. I’ve seen it dozens of times since and perhaps you have too. “IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS MUST PAY CASH!”
That leads right into our text. “And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” This scene takes place in the Temple in Jerusalem: the very center of Jewish worship and authority. The Temple complex was made up of various courtyards which became increasingly restricted as one went closer to the Holy of Holies which was the heart of the Temple - the place where God dwelt.
The account of Jesus observing a widow giving money to the Temple is set in the Treasury Court it was where all people made offerings of money. Mark records a short passing comment from Jesus about the widow giving more than everyone else, but we really have no idea of Jesus’ mood or the tone of voice, and this is where I think we sometimes misunderstand exactly what Jesus was teaching his disciples.
We are often taught that Jesus was putting down the wealthy for the way they gave. Just a few sentences before, Jesus had been criticizing the Temple scribes for their 'holier than thou' behavior, parading around in their long flowing robes with their noses high in the air, “look at me, I’m so holy.” Time after time Jesus challenges the corruption of idolatry in the Temple and offers a radically new understanding of God's relationship with humanity in its place. The whole purpose of the Temple was to be a meeting place between man and God. This was to be a place where man could set his relationship right with God through an atonement offering. But the Temple had become an instrument of political power rather than a place of holiness and forgiveness.
Into this setting comes a widow, someone who throughout Jewish culture has represented poverty and borderline starvation, a powerless, voiceless and nameless woman. It’s against this cultural background that Jesus pointes to her two small coins as such a sacrificial gift. The widow is immediately symbolic of an underclass we might describe as 'dead' rather than 'alive'.
But does Jesus put down the scribes for what they’ve offered? No! God has no problem with people giving to the established church. The Temple was God’s Church at that time. It is where Gods Glory dwelt; it was where His presence was found. We need to understand that Jesus has no problems with wealth, He created it! The problem is with some of the attitudes towards it. St. Paul didn’t say money is the root of all evil, no he said the love of money is. 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
In the days of our text people believed the wealthy were the blessed of God. They promoted wealth much like our own prosperity preachers of today. They could quote chapter and verse to you about how God blesses those who are obedient to His law. Today we have preachers who love to tell you to confess it to possess it. The prosperity preachers like Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagan. Or as I like to put it, the Copenhagen preachers, just a pinch between your cheek and gum will do ya!
It’s frustrating for me as a pastor because there are even non-Christian groups who are cashing in on God’s promises. There are motivational speakers who use Scripture to promote the gaining of prosperity. They quote Malachi 3:10: Bring the whole tithe (the 10th) into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough to store it. There are unbelievers who give to churches they don’t even attend, to a god they don’t believe in and they are cashing in on God’s promise in Malachi. That’s why some of these churches that don’t even preach the gospel are so well funded. People are cashing in on God’s promise but never attending. “Bring in the whole 10th and test me says the Lord.” Does it say anything about believing? NO! Does it say anything about attending? No! But if God promises to do something, He’ll do it and they collect for a season.
Another passage they use is Luke 6:38 "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." These motivational speakers and prosperity preachers talk about the concept of reciprocity. The idea that whatever you sow you also shall reap. "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, pouring into your lap.” They will tell you, “You can’t out give God!” 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” So sow bountifully and reap bountifully!
Does it say anywhere in these promises that God requires faith for them to work? No, it doesn’t. That’s what makes it so frustrating to me as a pastor. There are unbelievers cashing in on the promises of God. There are men calling themselves ministers of the gospel who are promoting prosperity theology while never pointing people to the means of salvation. Never pointing out our sinful nature and the love of God as demonstrated in the Cross of Christ!
Don’t be fooled by those looking to promote prosperity in your life without the cross, they are also looking for a piece of that prosperity as well. They want you to share. They’re the modern Temple authorities who would gladly take what little money you have? But even so, what is frustrating to me as a pastor is; why aren’t the faithful, why aren’t we collecting on those promises of God? Why aren’t we putting in the 10th? Why aren’t we sowing and reaping and trusting in God?
There’s more to the text than just the widows offering. The widow's offering does serve as an example—an example of what would soon happen. The widow gave all that she had in her offering of the two mites for the temple. Jesus gave all that He had in His offering Himself on the altar of the cross. The widow acted out of her love for the Lord. The Lord acted out of His love for us. The widow gave out of her poverty. Jesus made Himself poor for our sake. The widow's gift to the temple was greater than all the gifts of the rich people combined. The Lord's gift to us is greater than anything we can do, think, or say. The widow's gift went to advance the kingdom of God. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God with Him. The kingdom of God is near. It is here right here, right now.
God gives us His kingdom, for He has given His Son to die for us. Jesus has given the greatest gift of all—His very life. He gave His body and shed His blood so that we are forgiven for His sake. His was the ultimate sin offering, a Lamb without blemish or defect. That’s why we sing, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” He won our forgiveness at Calvary. He forgives us when we act less than charitable. He forgives us when we don’t act out of love, for He Himself is love. He is Love Incarnate. His love is so great that He died for the Church. But He didn’t leave the Church as a widow, for He rose from the dead on the third day. He doesn’t leave the Church as a widow, nor does He leave us as orphans, for He comes to us. He comes to us today in His Word and Holy Supper. He comes to us and announces to us that we are free to give as He has first given to us. The Lord opens our lips, and our mouths shall show forth His praise, praise of Him who gives to us each day our daily bread. Saint Paul writes 2 Corinthians 9:6-15:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever." Now may He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
So as I started to say in the beginning, In God we trust not because He pays with cash but because He paid for you with the life of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. And because He has we given all to save us, we give Him all praise, honor and glory, with our hearts, our voices, our time, our talent and yes even our finances. For He has given us all first, and now we’re simply responding through and by His love. What great love it is, to have a friend in Jesus. In Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.