(Whose Son Is the Messiah?)
38 Jesus also taught: "Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. 39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished."
The Widow's Offering
41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins .
43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on."
Jesus denounces the religious leaders as hypocrites who hunger for wealth and status as they practice their religion in public to be seen and admired by other people. In reality, they aren't the least bit interested in helping people; rather, they want only to help themselves to whatever they can get out of other people, even the most helpless and marginalized members of society. Jesus contrasts these religious hypocrites with a widow whose sincere faith and trust in God leads her to give away all she has. Her contribution, says Jesus, is far more valuable than the large sums of money given by the rich.
Flowing robes ... greetings ... seats of honor ... head table (Mark 12:38, 39)
Regarding the "flowing robes" Jesus mentioned, one source explains: "The robes of the intellectuals and aristocrats were long, reaching to the feet. The religious leaders wore white linen robes, with white symbolizing religious purity. These robes were supposed to be worn mainly for religious duties. However, the religious leaders had taken to wearing them into public, such as to the marketplaces, for attention. The white robes singled them out and thus caused the people to recognize them as authorities and greet them respectfully. The leaders had no reason for these actions except vanity."1345
Regarding the other items on Jesus' list, one source explains how many (most?) of the religious leaders liked to:
be greeted in the marketplaces with formal titles - Rabbi (teacher), master, father (cf. Matthew 23:7; Luke 20:46) - by the common people who respected them highly;
have the most important synagogue seats, those reserved for dignitaries, situated in front of the chest containing the sacred scrolls of Scripture and facing the whole congregation; and
have the places of honor at banquets, special evening meals at which they were seated next to the host and received preferential treatment.1346
As one source says (with tongue in cheek): "What an honor to ordinary mortals to have the privilege of greeting such distinguished men!"1347
Cheat widows (Mark 12:40)
Because religious leaders were not allowed to charge for their teaching,1348 "they depended on the hospitality extended by devout Jews. Some of them used this custom to exploit people, cheating the poor out of everything they had and taking advantage of the rich."1349 They set the tithe at 20 to 30 percent "on top of the heavy land taxes levied by the government."1350 In general, they sought to convince others that to help a religious leader live in comfort on earth is to earn a special place in heaven.1351
While "[t]he temple establishment was supposed to have provided social protection and economic assistance to widows,"1352 in fact they did the exact opposite. As one source notes: "Scribes often served as estate planners for widows, which gave them the opportunity to convince distraught widows that they would be serving God by supporting the temple or the scribe's own holy work. In either case, the scribe benefited monetarily and effectively robbed the widow of her husband's legacy to her."1353 This practice was so commonplace that the phrase "devour widows' houses" (Mark 12:40, NASB) became "a vivid figure of speech for exploiting the generosity of people of limited means."1354
Is it any wonder Jesus said they would be severely punished? "The punishment for these scribes would be especially severe because as teachers they were responsible for shaping the faith of the people. But they saddled people with petty rules while they lived greedily and deceitfully. Their behavior gave a pretense of piety, while they oppressed and misled the very people they were supposed to lead."1355
The collection box (Mark 12:41)
This ("the treasury" NASB) likely "refers to the receptacles in the temple forecourt by the Court of Women used to collect freewill offerings."1356 As one source explains: "In the Court of the Women, which covered a space of two hundred feet square. All round it ran a colonnade, and within it, against the wall, were the thirteen chests or 'trumpets' for charitable contributions. These chests were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets, whence their name. Their specific objects were carefully marked on them. Nine were for the receipt of what was legally due by worshippers, the other four for strictly voluntary gifts."1357
Many rich people (Mark 12:41)
As one source notes: "Many of those donating large sums were wealthy landowners who lived in or near Jerusalem; others were Jewish businessmen and merchants of the Diaspora who had journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday."1358 Apparently "there were always bystanders at these treasure chests who noted the large contributions and murmured praises when these were cast in. Such people would surely have overlooked [the poor widow] and her tiny gift."1359
A poor widow (Mark 12:42)
Beyond the court of the Gentiles lay the court of the women, which contained "13 trumpet-shaped collection receptacles for receiving worshipers' freewill offerings and contributions."1360 Jesus watched as the Passover crowd was putting their money "into the treasury" (NASB), and took note of a widow whose contribution was as nothing compared to that of the others. Her "two small copper coins" (NASB) amounted to "1/64 of a Roman denarius, a day's wage for a laborer."1361 "[A] widow ... had few resources for making money. If a widow in New Testament times had no sons, no protector, and remained unmarried, she was often destitute. Since there was no social security or public aid for widows, a widow would often be without financial support."1362
Given more ... given everything (Mark 12:43, 44)
Apparently Jesus was making two points regarding the widow. First of all, she stood as proof of what he had just been condemning, namely, "a temple establishment that exploits the poor and powerless, rather than assists them, as the Law of Moses commands."1363 Secondly, while the widow's minuscule contribution would, in the long run, mean nothing to those in charge of furnishing the temple, it cost her a great deal. Thus Jesus commended her not because of how much she gave, but because of how much it cost her. She gave everything and held back nothing. In so doing, she was placing herself completely in God's hands.1364 Where would her next meal come from? (Her two small coins "could buy one a handful of flour, or the equivalent of one meager meal."1365) God would provide. Where would she get more clothes when what she had began to wear out? God would provide. Where would she live if she were evicted? God would provide. The wealthy, on the other hand, gave large amounts - while making sure they had plenty left over for the next several months and years. They were trusting in their money; the widow was trusting in God.1366
The story of the poor widow offers a number of valuable lessons on grateful giving:
Grateful giving is sacrificial. "It is not the portion but the proportion that is important: the rich gave out of their abundance, but the poor widow gave all that she had. For the rich, their gifts were a small contribution, but for the widow, her gift was true consecration of her whole life."1367 As another source notes: "Many who live in abundance decline to give or give too little because they fear that they will not have enough for the future. They give from lack of faith, and that robs their giving of its true value."1368
Grateful giving is reckless (but not irresponsible). We are to trust in God, not our wealth. "Though her gift was by far the smallest in monetary value, it was the greatest in sacrifice. The value of a gift is not determined by its amount, but by the spirit in which it is given. A gift given grudgingly or for recognition loses its value."1369
Grateful giving involves quality more than quantity. Even if we are able to give little in the way of money, time, or talent, God can take that little and use it to accomplish great things for his kingdom.1370 "We may not be asked to give all we have; Jesus was not making that point in this example. But we must have the generous heart attitude of this widow and not the deceitful heart attitude of the Pharisees. Our Lord notices every act of service coming from a sincere heart."1371
Grateful giving is contagious. "Even in regard to money this widow's gift has been multiplied endlessly. How many givers' hearts has she not helped to purify, fill with better faith, and make truly generous in their gifts! When the final computation is made in heaven, the interest which this woman's gift bore for the kingdom will be far beyond anything that the gifts of others, such as those at the treasure chests, could possibly produce."1372
Grateful giving leads to great growing. God doesn't want our money; he wants us. Giving with an attitude of joy will help us better trust in, depend on, and obey our loving God. "Jesus wanted the disciples to see this lesson in total surrender of self, commitment to God, and willingness to trust in his provision."1373
Grateful giving knows that poverty can be a curse or a blessing. "It becomes a curse when it fills the heart with anxious care and worry, with murmuring and complaint, or leads to unbelief and dishonesty. It becomes a blessing when it compels the poor man to cast himself upon God who has promised to care for his children."1374
Going the Extra Mile
At the bottom of the Grand Canyon is an American Indian reservation void of paved streets, stoplights, and cars. What it does have is several hundred people, houses and buildings, and a United States Postal Service office.
The postal carrier is a man named Charlie who for the past 20 years has been leading a mule train from the top of the Grand Canyon down to the reservation below. It's a slow, cumbersome three hour trip one-way, the first part of which is along narrow ledges comprising a dizzying array of switchbacks.
The folk at the bottom need the same daily supplies we all do, and they are all hand delivered via U.S. Postal Service mule train. (FedEx and UPS will not make the trip.)
Charlie calculates that he has traveled enough miles to circle the globe twice. To him it's not simply a job, it's a way of life. 1375
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a life of adventure filled to the brim with opportunities to serve God through helping others. As we leave behind the safe and ordinary in order to give freely of our time, talent, and treasure, God will honor our sacrificial service by using us as his spiritual mail carriers, delivering the love, joy and peace available only through personal, committed faith in Jesus Christ.
??? Who do you know in need of a helping hand or an encouraging word? What can you do to help him or her?