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This morning, we have a number of guests with us in worship this morning who have come to us by way of our Scripture readings.
First of all there are two women. Both are poor, both are widows, and both are in a desperate situation. And both stand as shining examples of the life of faith.
You’ve heard their story already in the Scripture readings just read and so we won’t repeat it. Suffice it to say that both of these women make a sacrifice in faith that is truly impressive. And it both cases, it is not the size of the gift that they give that is impressive, but the size of the sacrifice that they make.
For the one it was just a “little cake of bread. If we could visit her in her house in Zarephath like Elijah did, we would find bare cupboards and an empty fridge, and only just enough ingredients to make one loaf of bread. And she’s got a child to feed. No husband to support her, no pension to live on. And the economy has totally crashed because of a draught. This is all that she has.
So when a stranger shows up at her door and asks for something to drink and eat, and she says, “I don’t have anything to spare,” it means something much different that when we say “we have nothing to spare.” For here there really is nothing else. There are no leftovers.
But then when the stranger identifies himself as a prophet who speaks for the “Lord God of Israel” and he says, “Do not fear,” the Lord will provide, what does she do? What would you do?
“And she went and did as Elijah said.” How incredible is that? She gave out of her poverty all she had to live on.
For the other woman, it was just “two small copper coins which make a penny.” If we tried to visit this woman in her home, we would probably find that she didn’t have one. The Greek word for “poor” here, “ptokos,” is used particularly for beggars. Even back in those days, there were religious leaders who would abuse their authority and con a poor, grieving widow into turning her possessions and even her home over to them in return for their prayers and spiritual care. Whatever the reason, she was a beggar who depended on others to drop a coin or two into her hand for her survival.
But when she comes into the Temple to worship and passes the offering box, what does she do? What would you do?
“Out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all that she had to live on.”
Both women throw all caution to the wind and take a great risk. Both said, 'let tomorrow bring what it will. I will trust in the Lord to provide.' Neither is willing to hold back, be cautious or play it safe. Neither is willing to calculate what they can ‘afford.’ They are both incredibly impractical. We would probably say, foolish.
But the one was simply loving her neighbor AS HERSELF. The other was simply loving God with ALL of her heart and soul and strength.
So, even though we would call this two women “foolish,” they are the examples that we should all imitate. We should be like them. They're the GOOD examples that we should follow. But in all honesty, who does? Truth is, these two, poor widows put us all to shame. They make us all look bad.
There are other guests who are visiting with us this morning through the Scriptures. There are some Scribes and there are many rich people, and they also stand before us this morning as EXAMPLES. But they are the BAD examples. They are the ones that we should not imitate.
Whereas the women were notable for how LITTLE they had and how much they loved, these are notable for how MUCH they have and how little they loved. The Scribes are rich in the knowledge of the Scriptures, but instead of using their knowledge for the sake of serving others, they use if for their own advancement. “The Scribes 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.”
The rich are rich in wealth. They have an “abundance” of wealth, which means that they have more than they need to survive. They are only willing to give of their wealth, but only insofar as it comes out of their “abundance.” That is, that it never really affects them, or causes them to have to sacrifice.
One would never risk his standing in the community for the sake of his neighbor. The other would never risk his standard of living for the sake of God. Both are practical and reasonable people. Both play it safe. Neither of them are risk-takers. And we would probably call them wise or shrewd. But Jesus says, “Beware of them.”
And sad to say, both are examples that are easy for us all to identify with. Our pews and our pulpit are filled with folks who are spitt’in images of them. All of us are rich in the knowledge of the Scriptures but are reluctant to risk our reputation by sharing the truth of the Gospel with others.
And all of us are loaded with money. Before you raise an eyebrow remember that I just returned from a place where many dream to be as rich as the poorest among us. We may complain about Social Security and a ‘fixed income,’ but in lots of places like Indonesia, there is no such thing as Social Security or welfare and to have a ‘fixed income’ would be a wonderful.
There is something else going on here that is very strange and very wrong. When God wants to feed His hungry prophet, who does He send him to? A poor widow. Isn’t the church supposed to go to its poor widows and feed them? And why is the poor widow in Jerusalem bringing her offering to the Church? Isn’t the church supposed to bring it’s offerings to the poor widows in their need?
None of this of course escapes Jesus’attention. Mark writes, “Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.” There were thirteen, trumpet shaped containers lined up in the Temple in the “Court of the Women.” They were made of metal, which means that when coins were dropped into them there was a noise.
When Mark writes that people were “putting” money into the offering box, he uses the “ballow” which means, “to toss or throw.” Coins were “thrown” into the offering boxes so that they would make lots of noise. Many rich people were “throwing” lots of coins into the box. By contrast, how quite were those two, small copper coins? Anyone with ears to hear knew that it was worth less than a penny.
You need to know that this happens two days after Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is Tuesday of Holy Week. After this, Jesus will leave the Temple and never enter it again. The temple will be replaced with His own body. And the only offering that will matter after this is the one that He will make on the cross. As Jesus sits and watches the people putting their offering into the offering box, I wonder if He is thinking about the offering that He is about to make.
His offering would be made, not from His “abundance,” which He had plenty of. “Being in the form of God He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped…” His offering would come out of His poverty. His robe was stripped off of him and raffled of to the guards. Rather than the best seat in the Synagogue and place of honor at the banquet He was seated on a cross. “He made Himself nothing, taking the form of servant and became obedient to death even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)
You can judge the size of the offering by the sound that it made. The sound of steel against steel and nail piercing flesh and splitting wood.
And there were some who were there to watch Him make His offering. But rather than “greetings in the marketplace,” and marveling at the faith of this poor widow of God, they mocked Him in disgust.
But the Father in heaven is watching. And the Father is well pleased with His beloved Son and with His offering. For out of His poverty He gave everything, all that He had to live on.
And now, out of the abundance of His grace and mercy and love, He gives all the poor widows of God all that they need.
For irregardless of whether we have much or little wealth or are single or married or widowed, we are all poor widows before God. Our sin has reduced us to spiritual poverty. Our unfaithfulness has caused the breakup of the perfect union with God that we were created in. Each sin we commit, an act of rebellion against our husband. Each sin a testimony that we do not trust Him to provide for all that we need. Every flirtation with temptation, an affair with the devil who, after he is done using us ‘devours our house’ and leaves us destitute before God.
It is for all poor widows like us that Jesus became poor. He is not simply the example that we should all strive to imitate, He is the substitute who acts on our behalf and is who we should be FOR US, and who does what we should do FOR US.
Out of the abundance of His mercy, He clothes us in the robe of His righteousness and greets us with His “peace,” “be not afraid,” and gives us the place of honor at the feast that He has prepared just for His poor widows. And at His gracious invitation, we line up at this railing just like those offering boxes in the Temple. And Christ drops His offering into us.
Don’t be fooled by its small size or the sound that it hardly makes. Just a coin sized morsel of bread and a sip of wine. This is His body and His blood. Given and shed for poor widows. This is not your offering that you give to God. This is His offering that He gives to you. AND IT IS EVERYTHING. ALL THAT YOU NEED TO LIVE ON.
So you Scribes, leave your pride behind. Don’t come to this table to be admired by man. Come in humility and true repentance, to be forgiven and fed, and clothed with the humility of Him who took His robes off to be the servant and wash your feet. Come and receive the honor that comes not from man, but from God and not from man.
Cease and desist devouring widow’s houses and everything that may be perfectly legal before man but wrong before God. Do not receive this gift as permission to keep on sinning. Receive it as the power that it is to resist what is evil and do what is good.
And do not worry that this meal will run out or loose its meaning if you come too often. Just like the widow of Zarephath, “she and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord.”
Be like these two poor widows. Throw all caution to the wind. Don’t hold back or be cautious or play it safe. You can afford to be incredibly impractical and foolish. The Lord will supply you out of His abundance. You are free to give out of your poverty.