The Widow’s Mite

Every Sunday, the church is privileged to worship our God. One of the acts in which we engage in during worship is giving. That is, many members will give money during the allotted time of worship service. Some are able to give a lot of money, others less. Unfortunately, some do not give. The money collected is used for a variety of reasons including local evangelism, missionary support, and maintanence of the building.

It is interesting to note that this practice of the church has Jewish roots. Under the Law, Jews gave the tithe, a tenth, to the Lord. Even before the Law, Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek. Giving has been a something that God has approved of, even commanded of his people since the beginning; Cain and Abel offered sacrfices to God. In Luke 21.1-4, Luke records the account of when a poor widow (a picture of true poverty in the first century) showed up at the treasury of the temple to make an offering.

Now Mark sets the stage for us when he records that Jesus was sitting “opposite the treasury” (Mark 12.41); perhaps he is tired from the exertion that went along with his four round heavyweight bout with the Pharisees and scribes. So he is able to see everyone coming in to make their offerings. Now there were 13 offering boxes (ESV) or trumpets (called that for their shape) which were labeled so you knew where your money was going when you gave. In this scene, Luke makes the striking contrast between the rich and poor. The rich people are coming up with their offerings and dropping it down into the mouth of the offering box. Perhaps the large sums of money make a lot of noice as they clatter into the offering box.

But then a poor (lit. lacking the essential means of livelihood) widow, one who is in dire circumstances (for a widow had basically not means of income) comes forward with her offering. She gives “two small copper coins” (ESV) or “two mites” (KJV, ASV). It was the smallest of the current currency. It was a very small, thin coin worth less than a penny today. Clink clink. I wonder if she was embarassed, if her face was flush with color because she had to follow those who were rich and whose great amount of money had great noice when dropped into the offering boxes.

Jesus shows why there was no need for her to be embarassed. He says she has put in more than everyone else, more than the each rich person who came to make an offering. The force of the words cannot be stressed. Literally Jesus says she gave “more than all” – her offering was greater than all of those rich before her combined. Wow! Why? Jesus explains: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (v.4, ESV). It was not about size but significance. This was all she had to live on (and it wasn’t much). What’s incredible to me is that she had two of these coins, implying she could have kept one. But to hold back would make the gift no different than those of the rich. This action of giving both mites is an action demonstrating her total reliance upon God. It was a true sacrifice to give all she had. The rich before had their bank accounts to fall back on; this widow, when she commits to give those two coins to the Lord, has nothing.

It should be noted that Jesus does not make her rich. A lot of televangelists will tell you that God wants you rich and if you give a lot of money, God will make you rich. Jesus does not miraculously give this widow riches. He does not command the rich to give her money. He does not tell his disciples to give her money. As far as we she know, she died a poor widow. But that’s the point! Luke is rife with warnings for the rich (Luke 16.14-15; 16.19ff; 18.24; 20.46-47, et al). Indeed, one of the greatest sermons ever preached (but not nearly as well known as the Sermon on the Mount) is recorded by Luke and the first blessing is for the poor (Luke 6.20b). Why? Because you cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6.24) and those who are rich must take special care lest they trust in their money, in this world, rather than God. This widow represents a disposition which is always looking toward God for deliverance and sustenance.

One final word: “As for the rich of this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6.17-19. I ask you: who are the rich today, the rich of this present age? Are they the people in Washington? Are they the movie stars of Hollywood? Or is rich just another word for those who have more than their “daily bread”?

The Rich, Young Ruler

My regular routine for Sunday afternoon following Sunday morning worship is to turn on the television and watch televangelists. *gasp* Yes, although I usually give them a bad wrap, I have to admit that I get some pretty good illustrations from them and every once-in-a-while they will say something worth writing down and keeping. Mind you, though, I have to wade through a load of garbage to get that gem. At any rate, although I should be used to it, I am always astounded by what comes out of these guys mouths. For example, just yesterday, one of these guys was saying how God does not want you poor and the reason this particular preacher “ain’t po’ no mo'” is because he began living his life according to the bible. Hmm…and in addition, he told everyone in the audience (a rather large crowd) that he doesn’t like being all alone on his mountain and told everyone they too can be rich by following what God says.

Now understand this: I do not think there is anything wrong with money. In fact, the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy in cattle, gold, and silver. But to me, this kind of preaching demonstrates the gross sin of the love of money. It was this attitude which Jesus condemned in the Pharisees (Luke 16.14) and I believe Jesus addresses this same topic again in Luke 16.18-30 with the rich ruler.

The Dramtic Dialogue with the Rich Ruler

A Hasty Query. Matthew tells us this rich ruler was “young” (Mt 19.20) and Mark tells us that he came running up to Jesus and knelt before him. He calls Jesus “Good teacher.” From what I can gather, this was not a term in regular useage among rabbis during Jesus’ time. In fact, as Jesus will point out, the reason it was not in use was because “good” was a term reserved for God (see Psalms 25.8, 106.1). So, did the youth in his haste make a mistake? I mean, Jesus has to set him straight right? More in minute.

Let’s examine the ruler’s question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a good question, no doubt a question many people were asking themselves and even today continue to ask. But the question for us, of course, is, “Is there really anything I can do which will cause me to inherit eternal life?” In actuallity, eternal life is not earned by us but instead is a free gift from God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6.23).

A Heavy Reply. First, Jesus addresses what the man has called him: “Good teacher.” He says God alone is good. Well, that we knew…but dig deeper here. Jesus is teaching this young man a lesson about who He is. The implication is that Jesus himself is God inasmuch as He contains divine qualities. Its as if Jesus is saying, “If you’re going to call me ‘good,’ at least understand what you are truly saying.” And dig a little deeper: the good God who can bestow eternal life to this young man is standing before him! If he truly understood the meaning of this statement from Jesus, instead of seeking self-glorification (which he does in a moment), he would beg for mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus’s response gets heavier in v.20: He answers the young man’s request for a list of things to do and not do. It is simply a reiteration of the Law. “Do not commit adultery” – so do honor marriage. “Do not murder” – so do honor life. “Do not steal” – so do honor other people’s property and merchandise. “Do no bear false witness” – so do love truth. “Honor your father and mother” – do not dishonor or harm them.

A Haughty Retort. As mentioned above, when Jesus implies his divinity in v.19, this young man should have been quick to humble himself. Instead, once he hears that he has been fulfilling the Law and earning his eternal life by his good works, you can almost see him coming out of his skin with excitement. He’s been doing these things. *phew* nothing new to add! But he fails to understand that there is something deeper at the heart of the Law which he has missed. This young man himself is not “good” – he has fallen short of God’s goodness by missing God’s standard.

A Hard Request. It was at the unabashed statement of self-righteousness that Jesus makes this difficult request of the rich young man. Jesus tells the man he still lacks one thing: “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What Jesus is getting at is that there is one thing that is hindering this man from truly having eternal life: a love for money. Rather than leave everything and follow Jesus (as his Twelve had done, v.28, cf. Mt 19.27), he simply will not (cannot?) do this most difficult deed. Hence, he forfeits the eternal blessings of heaven for the momentary riches of earth. How many today do the same thing? Their greed for more stuff, their trust in their 401k and retirement plans…they have more faith in the dollar signs and stock markets of the world than in Christ. And when told what they need to do to have treasure in heaven, the true treasure, they leave sad becasue the price tag is too high.

The Deflated Discussion with Flabbergasted Followers

The rich young ruler is not the only one leaves the dialogue with sadness. This scene of a man who is more in love with his money and stuff leaving breaks the Lord’s heart also. But as sad as the Lord is and as heartborken he is over this one man, notice something very important: Jesus does not go after him. You almost expect him to run after the boy and embrase, and plead with him to come back. If it were a parent, you would expect the parent to try and bargain with the boy: “What will it take for you to come back?” Here’s the thing: Jesus Christ is Lord. As Lord he will not accept discipleship on just any terms; he demands true discipleship to be on His terms!

A Sad Remark. I imagine the following discussion between Jesus and “those who heard” him was deflated in that this sad scene has played out in front of everyone. This rich, young ruler does not want to commit and perform what is necessary in order to obtain true treasure; rather he is satisfied with the fleeting riches of earth. He does not have eternal life! And with these emotions filling our Lord he explains the situation: its hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, its downright impossible!

In v.25, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. A couple of interpretations have been erroneously postulated. For example, some say Jesus is talking about a camel squeezing down through a small gate; the camel would have to get on its knees and then just bearly make it through this gate. Other say the word for camel (Gk. kamelon) should be the word for cable (Gk. kamilon). Hence, it is a cable through the eye of a needle. Well, why can’t it be a cable through the small gate…then, we can remove the impossiblity completely, right?

A Shocked Petition. The key to understanding v.25 is in the people’s question which is “Who can be saved?” The recognize the impossibility of Jesus’ illustration: there is no way a camel can fit through the eye of needle (literally). It is impossible. Also, tied up in this question is the people’s understanding of how God works. To them, wealth is equated with the favor of God. This is not unlike our televangelist friends who preach “health and wealth.” The problem with this is that Jesus sent this rich man away still in a lost state. Hence, if the wealthy, who are supposed to have the favor of God, cannot get into the kingdom, who can?

Jesus answers this peition by explaining that with man, it is impossible for an camel to go through the eye of a needle and for a rich to be saved.m But with God…and we have seen this idea of all things being possible with God previously in Luke (see 1.37). Just as it is impossible for a virgin to conceive and give birth, so also it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven and camels to go through the eyes of needles. But when you add to all those equations God, suddenly the thing that seemed impossible now has the power necessary to accomplish it. Hence, Mary becomes pregnant and births Jesus, camels can start fitting through the eyes of needles, and rich people can enter into salvation.

A Sober Reminder. Ever eager, Peter wants to remind the Lord (and everyone else hearing) just what he and his Eleven friends have done. But I can’t help but think that as Peter is making this statement, it is really sinking in just how much each of the Twelve have sacrificed to follow Jesus. This rich, young ruler is a sober reminder that if anything gets between a disciple and Jesus, he will depart Jesus in a sad state.

But Jesus issues a blessing. To those who would leave everything and follow Jesus, whether wife, brother, children, whatever, they will get much more in return in this life and that which is to come. Once more, as seen elsewhere in Luke (ch.14), Jesus is trying to impress on us the importance of placing him before all other things in life. But when we love him fully, 100% we get a wonderful return in our investment: “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1.3-4). Not only, we exchange this worry-filled life, complete with sin and death for eternal life with God and Christ.

The Law and the Kingdom of God

Humph. This is usually the term associated with a person getting upset at what has been said or done to them. It is usually at this point that the person who is upset will turn their back, cross their arms and stick their nose up, trying to look as dignified as possible. Take that picture and apply it to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This is exactly what happens in Luke 16.14. Jesus drops the bomb in v.13: “You cannot serve both God and money.” It is a simple statement of reality – God must rank first and have unrivaled devotion. Otherwise, he is not really God of your life. Luke tells us that the Pharisees overhear this and that they, being “lovers of money,” began to ridicule Jesus for what they heard. Literally, the Greek says they turned their noses up in derision at Jesus. “Humph!” You can almost hear their exasperation.

Ridicule and Reply

Jesus doesn’t leave them to pout and point fingers; he answers their ridicule head on. Note this: not all ridiculers need to be addressed, but there are some who need to be straightened up. And Jesus does this. Now when you read his response in v.15, perhaps you wonder, “Where is the love, Jesus?” Or “Aren’t you being a little judgmental, Jesus?” The answer is that in every sinngle word there is love. It takes incredible love to even speak the truth to someone. Boldness, yes, but love as well. If you really love someone, it will be that love that will stimulate you to tell them truth about their current situation. And this is what Jesus does.

He tells them first that they are seeking justification for their attitudes and actions from the wrong place. The Pharisees sought to be justified in the eyes of men, rather than God. And even if they were getting away with this kind of behavior, God knew what was within them. Here is the omniscience of God; he knows even our very soul, the thoughts we have. He knew the greed in the hearts of these Pharisees; he knows the moral filth we may hide in our hearts. No one should think that anyone is going to escape the judgment of God, even yourself. God will not be mocked by men. He knows who is on the throne of every human heart. Consider how terrifying this would be to the Pharisees.

But also, Jesus says that in the eyes of God, what men exalt is an abomination. This is especially true when men try to exalt themselves. Think of the Tower of Babel. Man wanted to be tops and God had taken a back seat. Because of this, God confused their langauge and their abomination came to a grinding halt. Jesus is driving at the heart of matter (as he always does) which is the heart of men. Men have the wrong priorities and purposes. We need to reevaluate ourselves constantly to ensure that our purposes are in line with the purposes of God in everything. God knows all our hearts – are they right with Him?

Law and Prophets

In v.16, Jesus explains that the Old Testament (The Law and the Prophets) was “until John.” The Greek has no verb here and therefore one must be supplied. The New English Bible (NEB) explains why it inserts “in force” in this verse: “The transitional nature of this verse, however, seems to call for something more like “in effect” (NRSV) or, as used here, “in force.” Further, Greek generally can omit one of two kinds of verbs – either the equative verb or one that is already mentioned in the preceding context.” Hence, the verse reads, “The Law and the prophets were in force until John.” I think this is a fair translation based on the explanation, especially when you consider the rest of the verse: “Since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” With the announcement of the kingdom, the old law is nigh unto passing away. Indeed, this is how the Hebrew presents the old covenant (see Hebrews 8.13) – it is “ready to vanish away.” So there is a changing of the guard, so to speak, as the kingdom begins to take root in the hearts of men and the Law and the prophets begins to vanish away.

Jesus says, “Everyone forces his way into it.” People were hungry for this good news, having been subject to the oppressive burden of the Pharisees. But as Jesus has said elsewhere in parables there is room for all (see 14.15-24). Unfortunately too many have to come to view the good news of the kingdom as, well, just news. Too many have a “ho-hum” approach to the kingdom and their spiritual passion wanes. Even in the kingdom there are those who view the kingdom too flipantly. It still is good news! Everyone ought to still be pressing their way into the kingdom.

Jesus explains the gravity of his teaching on the kingdom in v.17: “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” While Jesus is speaking, some there may hear him and think the Law was over and done with. In fact, Jesus clears up the situation by saying the Law will be fulfilled to the smallest stroke of a pen (Gk. mian keraian, one point). This is the “tittle” of the KJV (Tittle actually comes from the Latin, though). Moffat translates this as “comma.” In fact, it is just a small mark in the Hebrew and/or Greek language. But altering even that tiny mark is equated with tearing apart the galaxy. It is easier for the universe to cease to exist than for the Law to “become void.”

Divorce and Remarriage

And as soon as Jesus finishes this discourse over the Law with the Pharisees, he picks up a discussion on divorce and remarriage. What!? Where did this come from, Jesus? Well, I think this is more of an illustration of what he has been talking about. Jesus is pointing to a point of interpretation of the Law that seems to have been a common perception in Jesus’ time. And what a point to bring up! He shows them how severely mistaken they are in their understanding of divorce.  The Pharisees had a low view of marriage and a “ho-hum” attitude of divorce. Jesus teaches us that marriage was to be a life-long commitment and that divorce was merely a provision for hard hearts (see Matt 19.1-9). Here in Luke 16.18, Jesus shows them just how intense the Law is – a man divorcing his wife and remarrying is adultery. See the Jews thought a woman divorcing her husband was adultery and a man divorcing was no big deal. Jesus says the man is just as guilty. He is showing the Pharisees that they are way off when it comes to the Law. Whether it is divorce or money, they are off. Jesus is trying to get them to view the Law even as God views the Law whether it is on an issue like money or marriage.

Much more about divorce and remarriage could be said, but that is for another time. The point of this statement in this context is to point out the lax views of the Pharisees when it comes to the Law. They had literally justified their actions using the Law of God. How often do we do the same? We use the Word of God to justify our vices and actions. We twist Scripture so terribly that it becomes nothing more than a mangled mess resembling nothing like its original meaning. We jump through theological hoops to get to where want to be. We are all guilty of doing this. It is a time for renewed honesty. Not just any honesty, but biblical honesty. Scripture says what it says. We either accept it or we don’t. When we don’t, that is when we get in trouble. It is the same offense the Pharisees were guilty of.