Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The context of the widow giving her all to the Lord

Mark 12:41-44 "And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people wereputting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Mark and Luke's Gospel record for us this touching scene of the widow giving her last bit of money to the Lord's ministry. The picture above represents the type of coin the widow had when she gave everything she had. In reading this short account, much can be gleaned from the widow's actions. For one thing, Jesus is prompted to suddenly look up and take note of this widow in the midst of throngs of people. Luke 21:1 records - "And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury." Undeniably, Jesus' actions connected with the stinging indictment he makes against the temple system taking advantage of widows in Luke 20:47. As Jesus is making His final public pleas to his audiences to consider His claims to Messiahship, this small widow's actions causes the reader to slow down and watch a true follower of the Lord in action. As we think about Mark 12:41-44 and it's place in the wider context of Mark 12, I would like the reader to consider this context so as to understand why the widow's mite account is vital to our understanding. 

How Mark 12 features key ingredients in defining Jesus' identity and mission
In Mark 12:1-12, Jesus tells a parable featuring a master sending servants to check on the status of his vineyard. After repeated refusals of the servants and the eventual killing of the final servants and even the master's son, the master pronounces swift judgment. The master of course is God the Father, the servants are his prophets, the tenants is Israel and the son in the parable is none other than Jesus Himself. 

Other sections in Mark 12 appear that lead up to the account of the widow's giving of her entire livlihood. Jesus actually speaks about "rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's in 12:13-17. Already we see the theme of "giving" developing in Mark 12 - with the master "giving his son" in 12:1-12 and "giving" to God in 12:13-17. In Mark 12:18-27 we see Jesus counteracting the Sadducees denial of the resurrection. Such a rebuttal makes sense in light of the context, since Jesus is trying to prepare his readers for His impending death. Arguments for the reality of resurrection are necessary, since in a span of two weeks Jesus Himself will be rising from the dead. 

The famous question raised to Jesus in Mark 12:28-34 as to what constitutes the greatest commandment occurs in the middle of this grand chapter. As we think about what Jesus is doing in this chapter, it appears he is making the final transition from public ministry to what will be His impending death. We have already witnessed the theme of "giving" in Mark 12:1-12 and 12:13-17. God gave Jesus to come and die. In Mark 12:18-27 we see Jesus arguing at length for the reality of the resurrection. The motive behind the giving of the Son and Jesus' voluntary death and powerful resurrection is that of love. 

The same love of God that led to the Son's death and resurrection is the same love that defines what it means to live out the reality of the law of God. The only way we can love with God's love is when we have received by grace through faith the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ. Such powerful love is what enables us to love God and our neighbor. 

So the question is: Who is this God that we are to love? In Mark 12:35-37 we see Jesus demonstrating by way of a rhetorical question that He is the Eternally Divine Son - One with the Father - who came to take upon himself a true humanity, descended from King David. 

It is in contrast to this marvelous message of Jesus' mission and true identity that He then warns his listeners to be aware of the Pharisees in Mark 12:38-40. Sadly, the traditions of the Pharisees, which in some cases contained such rich teaching of God's Word, ended up adding man-made thinking to Divine truth - resulting in the spiritual blindness of teachers and students alike. When one reads the parallel of Jesus' denouncement of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-36, it is clear how spiritually blind the Pharisees and multitudes were. The oppressive system of the Temple System of Jesus' day resulted in many people being oppressed financially and having little to no ability to identify the very God of glory in human flesh.

Summarizing Mark 12 - Jesus' final plea for people to embrace His identity and mission by faith
Jesus spells out the mission for why He came in Mark 12:1-12. Just as God gave His Son, such a motivation of giving ought to be behind our stewardship, as spelled out in Mark 12:13-17. As Jesus continues on making reference to His mission, the argument for the resurrection is necessarily connected to His allusion to His impending death in Mark 12:1-12. It is at this point in Mark 12 that we see a transition from Jesus' mission to motives. We are to love God and our neighbor, and can only do so, when the love of God is coursing through our hearts. Passages such as Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:7 and 5:1-3 link our love to God's love. According to 1 John 4:19, such love explains why we are able to love in the manner described by Jesus. Then Jesus shifts to His Messianic identity in Mark 12:35-37, warning his listeners in Mark 12:38-40 to avoid those who could obscure it through human traditions. 

The one person in Mark 12 that evidenced genuine faith - the widow with the mite
Against the backdrop of Jesus' various teachings in Mark 12 and against the backdrop of the Pharisees he denounces, we find this small but clear portrait of the the widow giving of her final bit of money to the temple treasury. The term "mite" used in describing the widow's amount is an English rendering from a Latin Roman term meaning "minute". Despite a system that Jesus said would go in the extreme of exploting people such as her, this widow gave willingly. The widow gave her all - which is fitting - being that the object of her faith was sitting across from her in human flesh. Whether her eyes met his, the text does not say. Tomorrow we will consider in closer detail this account of the widow who gave her all to the Lord. 

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