The Widow’s Mite audio (6MB)
What do you place value in? What are the things that are most important for you? How do you show that you value certain things? That’s the question that we’re confronted with in today’s reading. It’s a fairly familiar passage for many of us but it isn’t just about how much we give. It’s about where our priorities lie. I’ve called this Kingdom Economics because Economics is the science of getting the greatest value from your resources.
This passage is part of a much longer set of incidents where Luke raises this question of values and priorities.
Let’s quickly look back at what’s come just before.
At the end of chapter 19 we find Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He says: “42"If you … had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Then he goes on to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem: why? Because they’re blind to who it is who stands before them.
Then he enters the temple and drives out the merchants and the money changers. He accuses them of making God’s house a den of thieves instead of a house of prayer. They were more interested in making a profit than in serving those who had come to worship God.
Then Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants, who kill all the messengers that the vineyard owner sends and finally, when he sends his own son they drive him out of the vineyard and kill him. Again, they were more interested in what they could get out of the vineyard than in respecting the owner and giving him what he deserved. And as a result they got what they deserved.
Next, his enemies try to trap him with a question about the lawfulness of Jews paying taxes to the Roman Emperor. But he turns the question back onto them. He says of course you should pay the Emperor what is due to him. But then he adds: and give “25to God the things that are God's." (Luke 20:25)
You see, the taxation question was a diversion. What really mattered was their attitude to God and giving God what was due to God.
Some Sadducees, the ones who were responsible for running the temple, come up to him then and ask him another trick question. What if a woman ends up marrying 7 brothers under the Jewish law that says that if a husband dies his brother should marry the wife. Whose wife will she be in heaven. Now these guys don’t believe in the resurrection. All they’re worried about is their ceremonial duties in the temple and the sense of importance they give them. But Jesus points out their theological ignorance. “35Those who are considered worthy (notice that) of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Luke 20:35) He wants them to realise that what matters isn’t how important you are in this life but whether you’re found worthy to enter the new life of God’s kingdom.
Interestingly, in the next chapter, in the second part of todays’ passage Jesus points out how futile their obsession with the Temple is. He says: “6As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." (Luke 21:5-6) They were so proud of their wonderful temple but because of their disobedience it would soon be razed to the ground.
Finally, Jesus points out the Scribes and says: “46Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. 47They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:46-47)
Like the Sadducees the scribes loved the honour people gave them because of their great learning. But their strutting around in long robes was just a show, put on to fool people. What they were really like was shown by their treatment of the weak and powerless. Rather than valuing God’s law they did whatever they thought would increase their power and wealth. And Jesus says their condemnation will be all the greater.
And that brings us to today’s passage. Jesus is sitting in the Temple forecourt watching the rich people coming along with their gifts for the temple. Then he notices a widow put in two small copper coins. He points her out to his disciples and says: “3Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4) It’s as though he’s saying, here’s someone who’s in total contrast to all these others we’ve been encountering in the last little while. They were interested in what they could get out of their connection with God, whether it was power or status or wealth, but she’s given everything she has simply because she loves and honours God. And he commends her for it.
So what does all this say to us? I think it raises a number of questions that we need to consider. First of all it asks where do we place God in our order of priorities, both personally and as a church? Do we belong to St Thomas’ because it’s a great community where we get lots of love and support or because it’s where we meet with God and his people?
Do we place our commitment to God above our commitment to ourselves or to our families which are really just an extension of ourselves?
For those who are standing for Parish Council today: are you doing that because it gives you a certain status in the community, or a sense of power or control over what happens here; or are you doing it because you want to use your time and gifts to serve God here? Are you willing to give up the time it’ll require to do that job well?
Or, thinking about the second half of our passage, are you proud of our building here because you helped to build it or are helping to pay it off, or are you simply giving thanks to God for his grace and favour in providing us with a place where we can truly build his Church?
Finally, are you like the rich people in the story who give out of your abundance, but an amount that doesn’t really affect your bottom line, or are you like this widow who gives sacrificially out of her poverty? The reality is that we have only a few people who are poor like her; people whose income is barely enough to live on. Certainly we have some: pensioners, some students, maybe some who are unemployed, but most of us are comfortably well off aren’t we? A few are very well off I imagine. Well this widow has thrown down the gauntlet; thrown out a challenge by setting the bar very high when it comes to showing what we value. Jesus put it like this: “21Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) If our hearts are totally devoted to God, our treasure needs to be as well.
And of course as I’ve already hinted at, part of that treasure is our time. How many of us here today are cash rich but time poor? If your heart is totally devoted to God shouldn’t that also be reflected in the way you give your time to him? One of the things I’ve observed both here and elsewhere is that the people who most often volunteer to do things around the church are those who are already busy doing things. And just like this widow they continue to put in, not their two copper coins, but their spare two minutes or more likely two hours to serve God.
Let this be a challenge to each and every one of us: What do you value most in this world? And as we’ve been asking in our sermon series lately, will the things you value in this world lead you to be ready for life in God’s new world? Do your actions accurately reflect Kingdom values – in the way you give of your money and of your time?
Each year I hand out commitment sheets around this time of year, so people can say what tasks they’re willing to take on in the year to come and I’m often disappointed by how few I get back. Now in my more generous moments I think that you’ve all filled them in and put them on your fridge to remind yourself what you’re planning to do but mostly I think that you’ve probably ignored it. It would be great to get back 100 of these over the next week or so and to have to ration out the tasks that need to be done because everyone is eager to give in that way.
It would also be good to see the regular debit forms being taken up or reviewed by more of the congregation so we can continue to build God’s Church here in Burwood.
God has given us a great church here to be part of but he’s promised us a far greater place in the world to come. Compared with that, nothing else that you might value in this world even comes close. So let’s store up for ourselves treasure in heaven that will never wear out or be taken away.