Scripture: Mark 12:35-44
Key verse: (44) “…she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Reflection: My grandfather was not much of a church-goer. His sister, my great-aunt Clara Belle, was at church every time the doors opened, but my grandfather rarely attended. However, faith was part of his regular vocabulary. He would joke about the need to get cleaned up and properly dressed, “because the preacher is coming over for supper.” No preacher ever showed up. Though I didn’t witness him active in church life, he certainly knew his Bible. It wasn’t until seminary that I realized how many of his sayings came straight from Scripture. I remember sharing with him my fear about his dying. And he said, “The Good Lord gives you three score and ten, after that you’re living on bonus.” I had no idea that was from Psalm 90 until I came across it in a study of the Psalms in seminary.
Another saying of his was, “You’ve got to put in your two cents.” As a child, I interpreted this to mean, “contribute a little something to everything.” During a class on the gospel of Mark I remember coming across the gospel reading for today and realizing that’s not at all what my grandfather was telling me. Read in context, to put in your two cents is to put in everything you’ve got. That’s what the widow does. The Greek words translated, “all she had to live on,” actually mean, “her whole living.” The widow gives everything she has, her whole life. Jesus uses her offering to illustrate “kingdom math.” In God’s kingdom, the number of zeros do not reflect the magnitude of the gift. $10,000 to one person might mean $10 to another depending on the gift’s relationship to the person’s whole life, including their wealth and income. God’s math is not our math.
There is another message in Mark’s version of the story. Unlike Matthew, Mark puts the story of the widow’s offering immediately after the warning about scribes devouring widows’ houses. For Mark, the widow’s offering fulfills the condemnation Jesus uttered about the scribes, “who like to walk around in long robes,” and enjoy the prestige of their position. Jesus says, “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” Jesus’ words haunt me. As a modern-day scribe, a teacher of God’s word, they call me to a tremendous accountability when it comes to stewardship of resources entrusted to the church for ministry. I’m thankful in the Presbyterian Church, teaching elders don’t make the decisions about the money, ruling elders do. I’m also thankful the congregation votes on our compensation, and that it is shared with the whole Presbytery. While it’s somewhat uncomfortable for our salaries to be so widely known, it is an important way we are held accountable to those whose resources empower the church’s ministry, and to the broader community of faith.
Jesus’ words also serve as a powerful reminder to us all—be careful to what, or to whom, you give everything you have. There is much in this world that will devour your house to serve its own interests. Sometimes it’s people. Sometimes it’s institutions. Often it’s a false god. The Living God does not devour houses. And God would not want to see your house devoured by any idol. Giving to God’s mission doesn’t devour life, it brings life —and joy and purpose and meaning. Truth be told, in giving everything we have, our whole living to God, we are not devoured, rather we discover what life is really all about.
Prayer: Most gracious and giving God, thank you for the abundance of blessings you bestow on us. Give us wisdom to be faithful stewards of all you have entrusted to our care; whether it is much, or not more than a mite. Empower us to discern your work in this world, and then grant us the faith to offer everything we have in service to You that we might know the life that really is life. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].