Jesus is at the temple in Jerusalem. He’s been making quite a stir (to put it mildly) between his riotous (yes, righteous too) actions and his incendiary preaching (which is tantamount to picking a fight (which will get him killed)) leading us to the offering box, then at that point (AT THAT POINT) in the story, he decides to sit down and watch people make their contributions to the temple of God.
Maybe you noticed that I put in bold all caps font there that it is AT THAT POINT in the story when Jesus decides to do this. Call me crazy, but I sense that says something about something.
The text reports that he observes many rich people make contributions. But then he sees a poor widow make a contribution. And the text evaluates the value of each. The rich put in “large sums” but the poor widow put in “only two mites.”
This isn’t exactly a math equation, but it works a little like one. Those large sums make for a lot of money. There is a lot of wealth put into the offering by the rich. But the poor lady puts in a very tiny sum. Her offering is miniscule. This is no comparison; it’s a contrast.
But then Jesus very ironically makes a proclamation which totally upends the math of the equation. Much in the same fashion as he claims the dead girl isn’t really dead but is sleeping, turning the math regarding life and death upside down, now he turns the math of giving upside down. The widow put in more than all the others.
Why? Why does he say this? How does he justify his logic?
The rich gave of their surplus, a fraction of their massive wealth, but the poor widow put in all she had. And Jesus thinks her tiny offering is of far more value than the fractions given by the rich. The widow put her very life into that offering box.
All of that I analyzed is pretty straightforward just Bible. A little of my comment, a little of my emphases, a little of my imagination, but it all hugs very close to the actual text. But now I want to really talk about it.
What other texts in the Bible have important points of contact with this one?
Can you think of any?
I bet you can.
I will give you a minute to think…
No, really… pause and think…
Got one or two yet?
Yeah. Me too. Maybe you can make an offering to this post in the comments. You might have insight to share here that I don’t have.
Right off the top, I am thinking about those who “give all they have to live on.” I am thinking about the church at Jerusalem as depicted in Acts 2 and 4, near the end of each chapter. There the disciples are said to have sold all their property and given it to the church so that no one went in need.
I belong to a church heritage (the churches of Christ descended from the Stone/Campbell Movement) which for several generations claimed bitterly to be “the New Testament church” adhering only to the Bible for it’s constitution and creeds. We were quite staunch about it. If you are old enough, you likely recall that churches of Christ historically do not use instrumental music of any kind, the reasoning being that such is not specifically authorized in the New Testament – which it is not. But, our bunch made this a matter of faith and salvation, breaking any fellowship with other Christian churches for their damnable choice to go beyond God’s Word and indulge in pianos and organs and such.
My point is that we were very strict about observing the Bible, following it to the letter, and believing God only saved and blessed that kind of church.
But in all that heritage, I never met anyone who said we should sell everything we own, give it to the church, and keep the needy from living in need.
Funny how that just never came up.
We broke with other Christians over this (and other things) even judging them to hell’s fire over it. But we couldn’t see the log in our own eye.
But I never met a critic who pointed this out either.
I find that passage does business with the widow’s mites.
Well, right off because in both cases, the devotees gave all they had to live on. Somehow, God shows favor for this. Jesus claims that is of more value in the kingdom cause. I could be super rich and contribute a cool million to the offering, but if my homeless friend put in all the change in his pocket (even if that was $300), according to Jesus, it’s a bigger contribution. And, well, the church in Jerusalem was doing that as a churchwide ministry.
This also makes me think of the rich man who comes to Jesus in Mark 10. He wants to know what he needs to do to inherit life in the Age to Come. He and Jesus have a little discussion about following the law, but then Jesus says something truly odd. He tells the rich man, “There is one thing you lack…”
This rich man who has everything – seriously, you don’t want to draw his name at the company Christmas party because he is so hard to shop for (What do you get the person who has EVERYTHING?) – according to Jesus lacks something. LACKS SOMETHING.
What does he lack?
He lacks selling it all, giving it to the poor, counting his blessings in heaven, and then coming to follow Jesus.
That’s a lack of something?
According to Jesus-math, yes. He is lacking the more value his life could have; he is lacking the Spirit of God and the richness of faith.
That rich man turns away from Jesus that day and prompts Jesus to deliver that terrible sermon that by all rights should keep American Christians awake wrestling angels all night long every night, he claims it is easier for the poor to enter the kingdom of God than for a rich man, that a camel would sooner pass through the eye of a needle!
The poor have it relatively easy when it comes to entering the kingdom of God. I get that straight from Jesus, not from the brochures my church prints up to invite you to come join us for worship, but from Jesus himself. The poor have this advantage.
And you know what?
That makes me think of that little passage in James where the Apostle tells us that when rich people come to church we should not show favoritism for them and marginalize the poor. “The poor,” James says, “are rich in faith.”
I don’t normally get all this much Bible out of those two widow’s mites, but her little mites are starting to blow me away. They detonate with the force of two sticks of dynamite.
I went to college for a Bible education, but I don’t recall THIS KIND of study regarding those mites. I am sure we discussed all of these passages and more, and I am certain that my professors and the books I read all gave me important ideas to think about, but I am also certain – CERTAIN – that none of them challenged the system that put all of us together.
I took out so many loans to be there that I strongly doubt, at this point in life, I will ever pay them off. I recall the day before graduation and the little exit seminar I attended where it was explained to me my responsibilities to pay back my loans, the end of which the administration made a sales pitch to me. If I would donate $100, they would put my name on a brick in the central mall, but if I made a $1000 donation, I could get my name on a seat in the coliseum. If I were to donate a million or more, I could get my name on a building! Never mind that this fine Christian institution had just educated me to think critically about Jesus’s words in Matthew 6, about giving in secret and not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing, I could get my name plastered everywhere if I just give money to them.
That bothered me at the time, but I had a graduation to prepare for, and it seemed too cynical to make a stink at that juncture.
Looking back, though, I think Jesus would make a stink at JUST THAT POINT.
But several years later, I returned for an admissions counselor weekend thingy where they pitch the school to my teenaged kids. As I sat through a few of their presentations, it became clear that one of the things the school was telling us is that their education is a clear path to financial success!
Think about that.
Not only is it just greedy. Not only is it ironic that my Christian school is using greed to promote itself and a system of greed. But if they have their way, they will produce ever more church people who give tiny fractions of their wealth to the offering box, who turn away from Jesus lacking one thing, and who show favoritism to the rich in our assemblies – WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I SEE when I attend church!
Helluva New Testament church we have there!
I call your attention to it so we can talk. What needs to be done? I don’t know.
I am not a church leader; I am a church reject. I prophetically point out the things church people don’t WANT to see. It’s not so much that they can’t as that they won’t. But, I am no policy maker. I am not a speaker featured at the podium. You can squeeze me out and ignore me rather easily (as history bears out).
I can pray about it. I am sure I need to do MORE of that. But I would surely appreciate readers (and others) joining me in that.
I can practice such repentance and faith in my own life MORE than I have before. And I am working on that too, though I am a work in progress.
But I have one more observation in all of this AT THIS TIME.
Jesus makes no mention of how the widow’s two mites will be spent.
Did you catch that?
How about you Corbett and Fikkert? Did you guys catch that???
Yeah, the temple offering box is a helluva New Testament investment. In fact some of those riotous actions and incendiary sermons Jesus preached just prior to his observations at the offering box demonstrate that the Jews have made God’s House into a den of rebels! That money is funding a den of rebels!
Jesus will go on to declare that not one stone of the joint will be left atop another in the soon and coming judgment, but he in no way quibbles with either the rich or the widow for funding it.
Hmmm… we are getting into yet more passages which do business with this widow and her dynamites.
God is going to address the corruption there soon enough, but giving to the place in the meantime is apparently still appropriate!
That surely says something about something.
David would not raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed, even though he was anointed to replace the Lord’s anointed, AND he killed the young fella who claimed to have killed King Saul in a misguided effort to impress David and score points with him.
Wow! We are getting into yet another text that has bearing on that widow’s mites.
We are also coming to the end of a long winded blog post.
What can we do? What must be done?
Well… look, watch, listen, and observe.
Wait for God to move.
His judgment is coming. But it’s his mighty acts that really count. My faith in him counts too. Counts like two tiny widow’s mites.
Stand back, though. When this dynamites touches off, you don’t want to be standing too close.