Turning human examples into law
When we were little, we all had role models. These were people who performed athletic feats, achieved success in the arts, or lived out their vocation in an extraordinary way.
They were on T.V. sometimes. Back then, if they had a character flaw, you wouldn’t find out about it. Even your parents might “cover for them”, because they didn’t want you to become disillusioned. Keeping up appearances was important for your achievement and success.
Our God doesn’t act this way, though. Throughout the Old and New Testament, we are given God’s view of how people really are, warts and all. He wants us to know that not just anyone could have saved us. He wants us to know that only His own Son Jesus was good enough to save us. And He did just that.
In our text today, Jesus warns the disciples about one group of people and then gives God’s perspective on a widow’s action.
To many of us, this is a familiar account. You’ve heard it a number of times over the years. We can sit next to Jesus in this story and whole-heartedly agree with Him. “Yeah! Those scribes sure were self-centered!” “Yeah, that poor widow sure was humble”. We agree that Jesus got it right when He looked at these two examples.
The scribes are pompous, self-serving religious leaders who are hypocrites. They are bad examples. And, I won’t argue that. They are bad examples.
On the other hand, the poor widow was a shining example, the mother Theresa of Christian selfless giving. Isn’t she someone we should aspire to be? She would be a great role model for kids and adults.
That thought process is deeply rooted in us. You and I want a pattern to follow. We want the moral compass that will guide us through this life. We want the Lord Jesus to speak well of us. We want to do good things. We want approval. We might be able to get that if we follow the example of someone like this widow.
But then, most sermons will probably take the direction of something like “sacrificial giving”, or proper tithing, or even having the right “heart-attitude” when you give to the church. It all falls under the heading of “Christian living”.
Have you ever heard artists talk about their works of art? Or a writer talk about a book they wrote? One common phrase they say is that their creation is like their child. That explains why they are so sensitive to criticism of the piece they made. I mean, nobody like when their child is criticized!
Giving away your most prized possession would be really difficult, wouldn’t it?
The Scribes in our account, though, couldn’t care less about what the widow gave. In fact, Jesus says something that I’ve often overlooked when I read this in the past. In verse 40, He says, “They devour widows’ houses”. Are we talking about the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel? No. That’s too literal.
Jesus is saying that the scribes take the payments of people without regard to their deep poverty and need. Even if a widow was relatively young, she might not have any means of making a good living since her husband had died. But any required taxes or payments were not eased because of her condition. It was only a matter of time before she was living on the streets, begging for money because she lost her home.
And the widow in our account was probably no different. The coins she dropped in the treasury box were a tiny percentage of a normal day’s wages. These offering boxes had trumpet-shaped openings on top. What is a trumpet for? Amplifying noise.
When rich people dropped their coins in, it probably sounded something like when a slot machine in Las Vegas pours coins out when someone wins big. Even if you weren’t looking, you could hear that crashing metallic sound and turn to see who was making the racket. Then you might think, “boy that person is rich and generous”. Some of those people might have poured all those coins in just so others would see them. They were self-serving.
But the widow was a huge contrast. When I imagine the scene, no one is around her. Probably nobody noticed. Even her two thin coins made very little sound as they fell down the trumpet. Those coins were practically worthless to people like the scribes.
To this widow, though, those coins were all she had. In verse 44, our Bibles say, “all she had to live on”. The Greek word for live is ‘Bion’. It comes from the word Bios, meaning life. She gave her entire life to God in gratefulness.
Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County did something extraordinary a few years back. Instead of giving a tithe, or 10% of his income, he does a reverse tithe, giving 90% of his income away to charities and church.
Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have done something similar, giving large amounts of their money away.
But, that’s not what the widow did. She didn’t give 10%. She didn’t even dare to give 90%. She gave everything to God. She didn’t hold back. She also didn’t make a show of it.
Her actions came out of a heart that was transformed. Whatever grace she experienced empowered her to give everything she had.
That’s why Jesus said she gave more than all of those who contributed to the treasury that day.
But is she our role model? Let’s be honest. Which one of us is willing to sell all we have today and donate it to God’s church? I mean, we have a hard time parting with some of the junk we have that has even the smallest sentimental value.
Think about the wonderful boutique we had yesterday. There were many hand-made items that really reflected the love of their creators. But, I’ll bet that some of the items that weren’t hand-made were put there just because someone had extra and didn’t really need that thing. Maybe the closet was getting full, and more space was needed for new stuff.
If we use this woman as a model of how to behave; if we use her as a Law, then the Lord Jesus is not pleased with us at all. In fact, we stand judged before God by that standard. Even if we take out what she did and are judged on our attitude toward giving to God’s church, how many of us have that grateful, self-sacrificing attitude?
Think of the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, and the pure in heart. If those are the ones who are blessed, what about me? You see, the Bible doesn’t just expose others “warts and all”, but the Word of God exposes us in our sin.
Jesus observed and explained that the widow was a lowly, poor, abandoned beggar. He knew who she really was. Nothing is hidden before Jesus’ eyes. But, to the untrained eye, she was worthless.
Look at Jesus who is describing her actions. Who is He? The Glorious, eternally-begotten Son of the Father. God of God, light of light set aside his Glory and descended to the earth. He was born to a lowly, blue collar family. By the time he is an adult, His earthly father seems to have died, making Mary a widow with many children to care for. Before Jesus began his ministry, it is entirely possible that he had been a carpenter, supporting the family until his four brothers were able to take that responsibility.
Then, this lower-class worker became a nomad, traveling from place to place. Sometimes, he was out in the open, exposed to the elements. He was oppressed by religious leaders, rejected by the people of his hometown, misunderstood by his own disciples. When it came time to pay the tax, Jesus told Peter to get the payment out of the mouth of a fish for both Peter and himself.
Now that’s poor! And he lived like this for three years. God lived like this for three years. The one of Ultimate value was demeaned, mocked and minimized by the rich and powerful. But, like the widow, he paid no attention to their attitude. His death on the cross was hardly acknowledged. The poor, nomadic carpenter’s son’s life was worth little to the world.
But his death was the greatest payment ever made to God! He paid for you with his life! And if that wasn’t enough, he has given you great riches! The least, the lowliest, the unlikely are the children of God.
Think of this; you have been saved from death. You have been forgiven all your sin by the washing of his blood. You have been adopted into God’s family through baptism in Jesus. You have been made a co-heir with Christ. You have been clothed in glorious robes of righteousness through him. You have been given a new family, the church, and are getting new brothers and sisters every day. You have been given a new and living hope through the Holy Spirit who lives in you and comforts you through the Scriptures.
All of this is because of Grace. God’s riches at Christ’s Expense. You didn’t earn it, work for it or even win it in a lottery. Jesus gave all of himself, all his life for you. And now, He give it to you. Because that’s the kind of God we have. No matter what troubles we face in this life.
As Saint Paul wrote in Romans 8:
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Jesus’ name