IN NOMINE JESU
It was Tuesday of Holy Week...Holy Tuesday, to be precise. The Lord had two days earlier made His triumphal entry in Jerusalem. The institution of His Supper was two days away, with His crucifixion and death to come in three days. On Holy Monday the Lord cleansed the temple. On this day, Holy Tuesday, the Lord would make the last of His public teachings as recorded in St. Mark's Gospel. There were a number of people listening intently to each word from the Lord's lips. Present were Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, scribes, the disciples, and others who were following the Lord, "common people," as Mark notes in verse 37, people who heard Him gladly. In the verses immediately preceding our text, the Lord established His Messiahship, quoting one of His forefathers, King David. Then in our text He warns His hearers to beware of the scribes because they are not as pious as they seem. The scribes insisted on being seated in the most prominent places at the synagogue and at the most important seats at feasts. The scribes thought that membership had its privileges, but they repeatedly abused these privileges. They abused their power, taking homes away from widows, covering up their sin by making blatantly long prayers in the temple, praying mostly to themselves. The scribes believed that by such shows of piety, no matter how false their piety was, they were justified in doing what they did to widows.
In the second part of our text, the Lord was seated in the temple, where He could watch the people as they went by and tossed their money into the temple treasury. These receptacles were trumpet-like in shape. As Jesus watched, He saw many wealthy people toss in lots of money. Then He witnessed a poor widow who tossed in a couple of copper coins, not the gold or silver coins that the wealthy gave out of abundance. The New King James Version calls these coins mites; yes, these are the same mites that formed the basis for the mite boxes used by members of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, boxes that hold well more than two mites—six rolls of dimes by my estimation. These two mites that the poor widow gave were a mere pittance when compared with the vast amounts of money that the wealthy tossed into the treasury. Her offering was a mere one-fortieth (1/40) of a day's wages, a denarius. By today's standards, her offering amounted to a fraction of a cent. She pitched in a part of a penny into the pot to promote the operations of the priests and the people of God. Yet it was her offering that the Lord recognized as extraordinary. He called His disciples to Himself and made an example of her. The wealthy threw in great quantities of money because they could afford to part with it, since they had so much more money in reserve, putting in out of their abundance, as Jesus says in verse 43. But this poor widow gave out of her extreme poverty. She gave what she could not afford to give. She gave all that she had, the two mites, all that she had to live on. She took her entire savings, meager as it was, and gave it to further the work of the Lord, trusting, as Abraham did, that the Lord would provide for her. She gave a greater proportion of her savings than all the other people combined! This is the cause for Jesus' marveling at the poor widow's offering, for the Lord looked into her heart and saw that she had faith. Through her faith, her little offering netted great blessings for her.
The Lord gives us great blessings through our faith in Him. Moved by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word, we respond to His goodness by returning to Him a portion of what He has first given to us. We give Him part of what we have and all of who we are. Saint Paul writes to the Romans and says to us, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2 NKJV). Our lives are to be offerings to God, offering ourselves to Him, serving Him as we serve others. We respond to God's goodness with our love for others, borne out of the love He has first shown us. Should we give until it hurts? No, we should give until it kills us. This is the character of self-sacrificial love, offering ourselves for others and for the Lord.
At some point in time, we have all been asked to give until it hurts. But all too often we respond by showing that we have a low threshold of pain. This is true, regardless of whether we are talking about putting money in the offering plate, volunteering to be a part of a church-related activity, or helping someone we consider to not be "one of us." While it is said that charity begins at home, we act like charity ends at home, too. What do we do when we are asked to help out someone we do not know? We make excuses. We have very few reasons but plenty of excuses. We forget that all people are our neighbors. This is because we are stuck on ourselves, just as the scribes were stuck on themselves. We are more concerned with our own prestige than with giving aid and comfort to those who have no prestige and are in need. We forget that what we have is not our own, for all things we have—and are—come from God. We would have nothing if the Lord had not allowed us to have it. We do not give because our hearts are empty; we lack the love that our Lord has first showered upon us. What little we give, whether monetarily or otherwise, we often do so with the wrong motivation. Rather than being moved by the Holy Spirit to respond to God's blessings to us, we act as if we were being tortured and forced into giving. The Old Testament requirement of tithing is removed; in the New Testament we hear that God loves a cheerful giver. But we are not cheerful—far from it. We are not cheerful when the offering plate is handed to us. We do not react gladly when we are asked to help with a church-related activity. We shut our ears when we are asked to consider contributing to the mission of the Church, whether locally or at-large. We are not willing to help a total stranger, even though Scripture tells us we might be entertaining angels unawares. The Lord Himself will say to us, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me" (Mt. 25:45 NKJV). The widow gave all she had, while we are not willing to do even the very least we can do.
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 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. The kingdom of God is near. It is here right now. "The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray...that it may come to us also. ...God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity" (Second Petition).
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 being. He gave His body and shed His blood so that we would be forgiven for His sake. His was a sin offering, blood shed by a Lamb without blemish or defect: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world—your sins and mine. He won our forgiveness atop Calvary's holy mountain for us sinners ruined by the Fall. He forgives us when we act less than charitably. He forgives us when we do not act out of love, for He Himself is love. He is Love Incarnate. His love is so great that He died for His bride, the Church. But He did not leave the Church as a widow, for He rose from the dead on the third day. He does not leave the Church as a widow, nor does He leave us as orphans, for He will come to us. He has come to us. He comes to us today in His Word. He comes to us and announces to us that we are free to give as He has first given to us on account of the new life He has given us. The Lord opens our lips, and our mouths shall show forth His praise, Him who gives us each day our daily bread. Saint Paul writes:
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!" (2 Cor. 9:6-15 NKJV)
Thanks be to God indeed! In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
"When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us--but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people." --Martin Luther (1/19/1538 [LW 22:202])--
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