Scripture Reading: Mark 12:28-44
When I was in seminary some of us wanted to get together and explore, play and learn new music. So we started to get together on a weekly basis to see what we could do. We quite enjoyed it. And after a while we were starting to get some requests to play at churches, so we thought we needed a name.
We thought about it, trying to find just the right name to capture our essence. We were all self taught musicians, we had no particular special musical skills. We just know we loved Jesus and wanted to play and sing music together.
As we thought about these things, one name came to mind for me.
Why “Two Cents”?
Well, we see the inspiration in our scripture reading this morning. The woman at the end of our reading today gave two small coins in her offering to the temple. It comes from where Jesus says, “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had.” (Mark 12:44)
That was us! We didn’t have much, but we gave it all!
And we had a lot of fun and blessings while we were able to do it.
I suspect this poor widow probably inspires lots of people. She is standing in a large group who are bringing their offering to the temple, there among rich people making big scenes about just how much they were giving, wearing their fancy robes and surrounded by adorers and servants. Here among all of this is a poor, lonely widow who quietly as possible drops in two small coins. She doesn’t want to draw any attention to herself. She’s feeling out of place enough already standing in the crowd of riches. But she’s there, and she’s giving what she feels she can give… even if it is only worth a penny.
She’s also the one Jesus picks out of the crowd. She’s the one who he tells his disciples, “Hey, watch her!”
She’s the one he celebrates and uses as an example of faithful giving.
One thing we know, is that as a widow this woman likely had no income. She should be supported somewhat by her family, but she would be completely dependent on their generosity. Did she have kids? We don’t know, but if she did, she would be the one to provide for them.
Regardless of the circumstances, all she could give were two small coins, when she has little of anything else.
This passage is often used as a tool to cause people to consider how much they give to the church. About how all the rich men give a lot of money, but it’s peanuts considering just how rich they are.
This woman has nothing and gives all she has, so who are we giving like? Are we giving until it hurts? Or are we just giving peanuts?
But that’s not what this reading is about. It’s not about how much we give, it’s about what we’re giving for. It’s about where we’re giving from.
Let’s jump back to the beginning of our reading this morning. Jesus is in a discussion with the Sadducees in the temple. They are discussing some of the laws around marriage and resurrection. Jesus teaches them, and a scribe overhears his response, which he deems to be correct.
The scribe seeks more out of Jesus, he wants to see how much he knows. It’s interesting that in this case it doesn’t appear to be any sort of trap. This scribe simple wants to be part of the discussion around laws, which is a topic he is very interested in, since it’s his job in the temple to know them.
So he asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus responds with,
“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
He tells the scribe what he is looking for. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and then follows it up with Leviticus 19:18, the part about loving your neighbour as yourself.
The scribe agrees with Jesus, and they acknowledge they are both well versed in the laws of God from the scriptures. Jesus commends him, telling the scribe he is not far from the kingdom of God.
These two verses, the two great commandments; we hear them a number of times when people come to Jesus looking for wisdom. They are in fact a summary of the 10 Commandments given to Moses on the tablets.
If these are the two greatest commandments out of the 613 commandments you can find in the Old Testament, why are they so important?
Here’s why… God doesn’t want your stuff. He wants you.
If you put God first and foremost in your life, everything else falls into place. Your view of the world will change. How you interact with the world will change. How the world looks at you will change.
God is about relationship. God simply wants us to know Him. He tried to do it through laws. He tried to tell them through the prophets what you need to do, but it just wasn’t working.
I went skiing with Anthony’s school this week, it was his first time. And of course he was nervous, as he should be. It’s a new thing to try and skiing carries a certain amount of risk, especially if you don’t know what you are doing.
So I explained to him what was going to happen. I explained what the ski instructors were going to teach him and how the day was going to unfold.
But, all of this didn’t help him be a good skier. It wasn’t until he was on the hill with the instructors actually doing what I had been explaining to him that it began to make sense. It wasn’t until he had the experts at his side doing these things with him that it began to take on meaning.
This is where Jesus comes in. God had worked with the prophets to draw out all kinds of rules to live by but the people just weren’t getting it. So God sent Jesus among them. Jesus is the expert on being in relationship with God, and he walked beside people to show them how it actually works.
He shows it’s not about the laws, it’s about being in relationship with God.
And then he sticks it to the religious leaders again, right in their place of work, right in the middle of the temple.
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40)
Jesus condemns those who do it for show, especially those who are supposed to be the religious leaders of the community. Why? Because that’s not what being in relationship with God is about.
Jesus is warning people not to love themselves more than others. When these people go out and seek recognition for who they are, when they expect the best seats at the table, when they see their positions as sources of pride and reward, then they value themselves more than their neighbours. You could even say they are putting themselves in the place of God.
That’s not what God has asked of us at all, and it certainly is NOT what Jesus shows us by his example.
Back to the widow… she is walking among rich men making a great show about the bags of money they are donating to the temple. She feels alone. She feels insignificant. She feels worthless.
Yet there she is. Among all this pageantry, she quietly drops in two worthless coins and moves along.
And Jesus points to her and says, “That’s how you do it!”
It’s not necessarily how much she gave in proportion to how much she has… it’s that she still gave when she had nothing left. Those two coins may have been able to get her a little food or supplies, but instead she gave it to God for what she hopes will be a greater purpose.
She thought of God above herself. She thought of others besides herself.
She showed what it means to be in true relationship with God.
She didn’t give the money to be part of a show. She didn’t look for recognition. She didn’t stand up and shout, “Look at me! These are my last two coins, and I’m giving them up!”
She just walked in and did what she felt she had to do.
There was no expectation. There was no seeking of a reward.
She simply wanted to honour God with whatever she could offer. For her it was her last two coins.
I don’t know what any of you gives to the church. You could be giving $2000 or $2 for all I know. It doesn’t really matter.
What really matters is, and what I care about is, “How are you with God?”
Are we here to make a show of our attendance?
“You went to Chase the Ace? Well good for you, I went to church! I’m a better person than you I guess.”
Or are we here to humble ourselves before God?
Are we here to say, “God, you are so great and I am so small. Yet even with my smallness you can do great and wonderful things. So take my smallness if you’d like and use it to do your great things. I’ll help out if you’ll use me.”
The widow is saying that her relationship with God is far greater than what her last two coins could ever do for her.
She loves God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength.
That’s what we’re getting at today.
I bet this woman would be mortified if she knew what she did was still going to be talked about 2000 years later. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
Because this woman shows her faith in God above all else, she is an example that God has used for 2000 years, and will continue to use for another 2000 years to come.
God took her smallness and is using it for far greater things than she could ever imagine. God took what was thought to be a tiny, insignificant moment and did something great! And we’re the better for it.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m no good for anything”?
I’m sure many of you have. It’s all something we feel once in a while. After a hard day where nothing ever goes right, we feel useless, insignificant.
But God doesn’t look at us that way.
It might be hard to imagine, but God looks at you and He loves you. God sees what you are capable of. God knows what gifts you have to offer inside you, even if you try and hide it.
Did you know there is something about you that God absolutely delights in? God wants you to know what that thing is.
Let’s just take a minute to see what that might be. It’s probably going to feel a little awkward, but God really wants you to know.
So take a moment and try and quiet your mind. If you’re comfortable, close your eyes and just focus on God.
When you’re ready, just ask God this question.
“God, what do you like about me?” And listen…
Did you hear something? Did something come to mind that surprised you?
If you didn’t hear anything, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t like anything about you, it just means maybe we aren’t quite ready to hear it. Keep trying, maybe somewhere where you can be alone with fewer distractions.
Or maybe you’re asking yourself whether it really was God you heard. That’s ok too. Maybe it’s your own subconscious. Again, with practice you’ll learn to distinguish between them.
So whether you think you heard something, or are unsure, I’m going to go out on a limb and say God does love you. It’s not really much of a limb to be honest. Scripture is full of stories of God’s delight in His people.
People just like the poor widow. A nobody with nothing to her name, yet 2000 years later Jesus points to her and says, “Be like her.”
It’s not about how much money you give, it’s about how much of your heart you give.
I can guarantee if you give your heart to God you’ll receive far more back than if you give a dump truck full of cash.
Your heavenly Father wants your heart, not your wallet.
Yet the heart is often the hardest thing to give. It means we’re vulnerable. It means we’re open and trusting.
But it also means God will give us something back. Something far more valuable, far more meaningful, far more rewarding.
And far more life-giving.
God will give us Himself. He will fill us with His Holy Spirit. And we will be changed as we are welcomed fully into the family of God.
If you want to give more money? Sure, go for it. I’m not going to complain.
But also consider giving your heart.
Because that’s what God really wants.
God wants to be in relationship with us. That’s why He sent His Son to be with us. That’s why Jesus dies for us.
In his death, Jesus shows us just how far God is willing to go be in relationship with us. He gave his own life for you.
And all he asks for in return is your heart.
Because that’s who He is. He is a God of love.