Today we continue walking through our series entitle The Generous Life. We have been connecting the Generous Life with what we have been calling a resurrectional life. A resurrectional life that lives a life of stewardship, which we have defined as caring for things that God has given us, in the way that he would care for it. Stewardship then applies to things like money (of course), time, talents, relationships, our bodies, the environment, and more.
When we started this series 3 weeks ago we began talking about being a good steward of our bodies. That the resurrection, if anything, means that this world truly matters. And that are bodies matter to God and he wants us to take care of them. So we talked about exercise, sleep, etc… but spent a good deal of time talking about underlying. more foundational questions about image, self, etc..
Last week, as it was Earth Day Sunday, centered our time around taking care of the environment. That God wants us as image bearers to ‘radah’ (rule, dominate) over the creation in the exact same way that he would…which is in loving, caring, and helping redeem it. We also talked about that the creation was called very good at the beginning of Genesis, and that even despite of the fall into sin that affects even the Creation itself, that God, I believe, still calls this earth/planet good, and desires us to see it that way. And work towards the shalom of the planet, and that one day when Jesus comes back, he’ll set it all right, and it will be very good again.
Today and next week we talk about the topic that we all love to talk about so much when it comes to stewardship…that’s right..money. Today I’ll be talking about stewardship of money from more of a 30,000 feet viewpoint. And then next week Dave Witmer will come and talk in more detail about what stewardship of money looks like on a congregational scale and how our money influences our faith, and how our faith should influence our money.
So today we are talking about stewardship of finances and to do so we are going to go to Mark 12:38-44 and talk about this story that Mark tells about Jesus and his run in with the scribes, but also his encounter with a poor widow.
Look at Mark 12:38-44, “As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
At first reading, it seems like these two parts of our Scripture really have nothing to do with each other. But in looking at it deeper we see that there is a connection between these two parts. They are set against each other and Jesus is making a direct reference and difference between the teachers of the law, and the poor widow. How the teacher’s of the law operated when it came to stewardship and how the poor widow operated.
Let’s look first at the teacher’s of the law and what Jesus is really saying about them. Jesus says that they like to be seen as important. They like to be noticed. They like to be greeted in the marketplace, that they make a show of lengthy prayers. But the most interesting statement that Jesus makes about the teacher’s of the law is this statement: “they devour widows’ houses”. Commentaries are divided and unsure what this actually means. But the one that I read had this to say, “To devour widow’s houses means that the teachers of the law encouraged impressionable widows to make gifts beyond their means.” We’ll come back to this in a little bit in relation to the poor widow- who may have had her house devoured by the teachers of the law.
I am extrapolating this idea but I believe when Jesus sat down opposite where people gave money and saw the rich giving money, I would imagine that some of those rich people no doubt were the teachers’s of the law. It fits their MO so to speak. They like to draw attention to their acts of religiosity. Their devotion to God. And nothing like giving large sums of money “to God” to draw the attention, admiration, and respect of the people. You see in that day the only forms of money there were were coins. When Mark uses the word threw to describe how the rich people put in their offerings, he is getting at the point of the rich doing it for show. You see when you would throw your offering of coins into the temple treasury, the coins would make noise hitting the offering box. The more coins the more noise and the more attention it would bring to the giver. In relation we see the widow putting two small coins in, not throwing them in, not trying to draw attention to herself and her offering.
So it is evident from this that God cares not so much about how much we give, as in how we give. Throughout the Bible we see the idea that we aren’t to make a show of our piety. Jesus says that we aren’t even supposed to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing in relation to giving. And God calls us to be a cheerful giver, something Dave will explore next week. So how are you in relation to giving? Are you doing it to draw attention to yourself and your act of piety? Or are you doing it as a faithful steward, being grateful and thankful for all God has done in and through you?
So let’s now talk about the poor widow. This widow came to the offering box with two small coins which Jesus said were all she had to live on. These offering boxes we placed near the entrance of the temple, and the offerings went to the maintenance of the temple work, things like the building itself, the priests, and the furnishings.
So the poor widow came up to the offering boxes, and place two small copper coins in the box. These two small coins were what is called leptas. These coins were the smallest coin in the Greco/Roman world. The text says that they were only worth a few cents. Lepta’s were really only about 1/64th of a days wages, or in minutes, 6 minutes of an average day’s wage. This act of giving was an act of worship. This act of giving was an act of sacrifice, after all Jesus said that she gave out of her poverty, while others gave out of their wealth. This act of giving was a huge act of trust.
This part of the passage is then primarily about trust. The poor widow’s trust in God to provide. So as we are talking about stewardship of money today, we need to realize that stewardship when it all comes down to it, is really about trust. Do you trust God enough with your finances? Do you trust Him to come through when it seems like there is no way you’ll make it? Do you trust him enough to give part of your finances to him? Stewardship also when we come right now to it is not ultimately about what we give to the church. Rather stewardship reflects a conviction that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God. Stewardship is concerned with helping us use all that we have wisely. How we spend our money reflects our trust or lack of trust and also tells us and others about who or what our god actually is. This woman trusted God with all that she had. She was and is a picture of trusting God. What about each of us? Do we trust God with everything that we have, as it is ultimate his anyway, and we are just called to be good stewards of it?
But there is another part of this text that we need to explore. One that isn’t so evident on the surface. And one that I believe can help us understand more about stewardship from the heart and soul of Jesus, the one who we need to take our cue for how we give of ourselves and our money. And how our community, as a community of those who seek to follow Jesus, should live and how we should deal with this hard, divisive, difficult topic of stewardship and money. All too often churches actually get in the way of people’s journey to Jesus because of money. I just heard the other day someone said that they were told by a church that if they didn’t give 10% of their income, they were going to go to hell. That is so not Jesus. So let’s look at another side to this story. One that I brought up before when I mentioned the statement that Jesus said, “they devour widow’s houses.”
What if Jesus is not just holding up the poor widow as an example of piety, but also is holding her up as an example of someone who is being exploited by her religion? What if this story moves beyond just personal piety into the larger issue of right stewardship from a communal standpoint. From a religious communal standpoint. What if she was one of the widow’s whose house was devoured by the teachers of the law. That they were impressing upon this widow to give more than her means. You see in the previous scene Jesus is warning the crowds about the scribes and teachers of the law, who devoured widow’s houses. Also Jesus, after this scene leaves the temple for the last time. Perhaps after seeing how this religion, this temple system, took this poor woman’s money, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and he finally totally forsook the temple for good. Also we see that just after Jesus triumphal entry days earlier that he had driven out the money changers, and accusing them of exploiting the poor. What if this story shows us the underbelly of a religious system? Exposing the temple for what it was. Remember we talked about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple because the money changers were literally getting in the way of people finding God? This is Jesus again exposing the temple for what it was…bankrupt, and devoid of true Kingdom Life. And saddling poor widows with a burden that they didn’t need to be saddled with. This doesn’t diminish the widow’s gift. Actually it puts her in a much more profound and deeper respected place, because she is so much more a model of stewardship, trust, worship, and true devotion.
Jesus words about the widow push us to expect more of ourselves and also our communities of faith. Jesus expects us as individuals and as a community to take everything we have and use it according to the ethics and the patterns of the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of this world. We need to ask ourselves these hard questions when it comes to stewardship of money: Where are our priorities? The Kingdom of God or our own comfort? How much do we trust God when it comes to our finances? How much do we trust Him to provide for us and take care of us (read Matthew 6:25-33)? How are we giving? Do we give to get? Get attention. Get approval. Get accolades? Get God in our debt. Are we more like the teacher’s of the law/scribes or the poor widow? And are we as a community who seeks to follow Jesus living our stewardship of money in the way that Jesus would want us to? Are we “devouring widow’s houses”? Are we using our communal “wealth” to prop up the system or are we using our communal “wealth” to further the Kingdom of God and use it for the shalom of the world (wholeness, healing, redemption, peace, etc..)?
So let’s dialogue around this text and see what might God be saying to us about stewarding our money in a Kingdom of God way and what that might look like for us as individuals and as a community.
1. What stands out to you? Thoughts, questions, insights, etc…
2. What area do you struggle with in relation to stewardship of money? (ie…trust, drawing attention, questions about churches use of money, etc..)
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?