Out of Poverty
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 27 B Mark 12:38-44
November 07, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people putting money into the offering plate,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Viral pandemic precautions have relocated our offering plates. We used to pass them down each row after the sermon and bring them into the Sanctuary before the Service of the Sacrament. As we can see from today’s Gospel reading, the people used to put their money in the temple treasury in such a way that someone like Jesus could sit and watch what they were doing. Was that a good idea or not? Jesus certainly used it as a good opportunity to teach something to His disciples. After warning them to beware of those who do things for show in order to receive the praise and honour of others, Jesus not only sat and watched the people deposit their offerings but also pointed them out to the disciples.
We issue offering envelopes in order that not everything may be seen by others (Matthew 6:1). The colour of the bills is concealed and the donor names give way to numbers. Jesus was able to see just how much each person was giving, even to the penny, and to point that out to His disciples. Of course Jesus can still see what each of you is giving today, even if your fellow disciples cannot. But the point of the concealing offering envelopes may not be so much that others cannot see, as that we cannot show.
Beware of those who like to make a show of themselves. That is, beware of your own inclination to make a show of yourself. That brings greater condemnation (Mark 12:38-40). But perhaps there is some good opportunity for teaching, even in regard to how we give our offerings; some good opportunity for Jesus to teach. What is it that Jesus might teach as you drop your envelope onto the offering plate?
Jesus saw how many people put in large sums, but He didn’t point this out to the disciples. He pointed out to them a poor widow who put in only two half-pennies and declared that she put in more than all the others because she gave all she had to live on (Mark 12:42-44).
Jesus didn’t take this opportunity to emphasize that they should all be giving the tithe (a tenth of their income), as Abraham did when He gave an offering to the priest Mechizedek (Genesis 14:20), and Jacob promised to give after receiving the vision of the ladder between earth and heaven (Genesis 28:22), and as the Israelites were commanded to do for the building and upkeep of the tabernacle and the temple (Leviticus 27:30).
Jesus did not even talk about giving of the first-fruits, which we often think of as a sum off the top before any other expenses are paid. He didn’t commend the widow for either of these commitments. He commended her for giving it all, her entire living.
Perhaps she had heard in the temple courts that very day, the same reading from the First Book of Kings that we heard as our Old Testament Reading (1 Kings 17:8-16). God sent the prophet Elijah to a widow at Zarephath and she prepared a cake for the prophet out of the last of her oil and flour. That widow found that her flour bin was never empty and her oil jar never dry throughout the three years and six months of drought (James 5:17).
The widow witnessed by Jesus in the temple had heard the Word of the LORD through the prophets and she gave all of her living. This is a little closer to the true meaning of the offering of first-fruits. The first-fruits offering was given at the start of the harvest (Leviticus 23:34), before you knew how the rest of the harvest would go. It was an act of faith in remembering that all things belong to the Father and come to us from the Father, a Father whose delight it is to give us our daily bread, and have us receive it with thanksgiving.
Our giving is an act of faith in a loving heavenly Father who supplies all that we need for this body and life. It is this faith that allowed the widow in Zarephath to prepare a bit of bread for the prophet of God before making any for herself and her son. It is this faith that allowed the widow at the temple out of her poverty to put in everything she had. It is the same faith which makes it unnecessary for us to show to others our pious religious acts. With a generous heavenly Father looking after us we do not need to win the favour of anyone or depend upon them to treat us with deference.
But might they learn something beneficial from our giving? The widow singled out by Jesus at the temple would not only have heard about the LORD’s provision of flour and oil for the widow of Zarephath, but also of the LORD’s promise to provide a Saviour for His people, the Christ, the Son of David (Mark 12:35-37). And in the days preceding the crucifixion of Jesus, she would come to hear that Jesus of Nazareth is this Christ, the Saviour who has come to give His life for the world. As she responds in faith to the salvation that the LORD has provided for her, she preaches a sermon by placing her donation into the offering box.
St. Paul pointed out in his letter to the Ephesians, from which we heard earlier this year, that the relationship between husband and wife reveals a mystery about Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). As husband and wife live out their divinely given roles in marriage, they preach a living sermon about Jesus’ love for the Church and the Church looking to Jesus for salvation. Could something so mysterious be happening when you toss your envelope onto the offering plate?
In his second letter to the Corinthians St. Paul wrote concerning their offerings: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The Christ, the Son of David, born in David’s town but laid in a manger, King of kings yet crowned with thorns, is He through whom we have become the children of God, princes and princesses in the eternal kingdom without end. Through His suffering and death we have, along with a poor widow who out of her poverty put in everything she had, life eternal with treasures in the heavenly places.
The shed blood of Christ who gave “Himself without blemish to God, [will] purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). That is the offering that does what our offerings cannot do. Jesus’ offering is the one that pays for our sins. It purifies our conscience. And it even pays for those sinful dead offerings when we have given for show to look good in the eyes of others, those dead works which we presume to offer to the living God. It is only by the offering of Jesus on the cross that our rotten hearts are purified so that we might give an offering of thanksgiving for His grace and mercy toward us.
When the poor widow put in everything she had, her whole living, she preached a sermon through her faithful work. And it wasn’t a sermon about herself. It was about Jesus her Saviour, who put in all He had for her, His whole life. In those days before His crucifixion, Jesus was able to point out this poor widow to His disciples and to show them what He Himself was about to do for us all. He was about to give His whole life as an offering for our sins. His sermon that day in the temple could come to a quick end. “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Here endeth the lesson about Jesus.
When you give your offerings, what kind of a sermon are you preaching? When your children and neighbours see you put your offering envelope onto the plate, what are you telling them about Jesus? This is another opportunity that the Lord has given us to share the mystery of His grace and love, just as we have opportunity to do it also as we live out our vocations as husband and wife, parents and children, workers and employers. As we live with faith in His grace, we proclaim His faithfulness to us. It is not about us giving a tenth or our first-fruits. It is about Jesus giving His whole life for you.
It is helpful to have some kind of a suggestion for how to show our thankfulness and praise in offerings that are not dead works but living sacrifices in lives of faith under His continual blessings. The Scriptures tell us how other people of faith responded to God’s grace in their lives. But most of all the Scriptures proclaim that grace to us: the bin of flour and the jar of oil that were never exhausted; the homeless prophet taken in and fed; the widows who received aid through the offerings others generously gave in the church; the needy raised up out of affliction (Psalm 107:41); and all of us raised from fear to faith, from show to sacrifice, from death to life in the eternal kingdom of Christ.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.