By Jerry Lutz, Associate Pastor, Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church, Spencerville, Maryland
Summary: What we believe affects the way we act; and how we act affects the way we believe.
Scripture: Mark 12:41-44
The only discernible differences that stand between this little girl and the woman in Mark’s story are their ages and 56 pennies; neither of which makes any real difference. It’s what they have in common that has earned them a place in history. We don’t remember them today because of their great gifts for what each did isn’t really about money. They are remembered because of the greatness of their actions. It is the testimony of their humble actions that so impresses us. They remind us of a simple and immutable truth about us: What we believe affects the way we act; and how we act affects the way we believe.
Jesus had just accused the scribes of interpreting scripture to conform to their own ideas about the Kingdom of God. He indicts them for using their sacred office to promote their own selfish pride and cover their unethical practices (verses 38-40). Through a sentimental show of spirituality they were robbing the poor, susceptible widows. Jesus pierces them with the arrow of shame drawing their attention to a widow, who gives her all to the Lord. After witnessing this remarkable act of sacrifice and humility He called His disciples around Him and repeated the lesson that He had taught them so many times and in so many different ways. He said, As this woman out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood (verse 44), God asks that we give Him our all.
The story of the widow and her two mites is not just about money. It’s about giving. It’s about giving, more than it is about the gift. It’s about motivation, about belief, attitude, faith, life priorities. It’s about all these things and more, but ultimately it is about giving, as taught by the One, who in just days from this experience in the Temple, would give all He had on a cross on a hill just moments away from where He stood that day.
Giving is to be measured:
1. Not by its count but by its cost. We humans have a tendency to place greater importance on quantity than quality. To most of us bigger is better and the more we have of it and the more we show it off the better we think it is.
Jesus watched how the people were putting their money into the receptacles. He noticed the attitude with which they give as well as the amount of money they contribute. Do the rich show displeasure of having to keep their reputation for being generous givers? Does the widow look ashamed when she drops in her offering? Who knows the difference between the two offerings anyway? Jesus knows. He knew the count, but more importantly He also knew the cost.
The rich gave from their abundance, to impress their friends and threaten the poor. Their large donations hadn’t deprived them of any comfort, or luxury. Compared to the widow’s mite, they had made no sacrifice. In contrast, what had the widow’s gift cost? She gave her living. All that she had, said Jesus.
2. Not by what is given but by what is kept. A pastor received a letter and tithe from a woman who was not a member of the church. The letter said that she was a single mother whose constant struggle is keeping food on the table for her children, and keeping her landlord happy with the rent each month, but that she had been impressed to return the Lord’s tithe. I really can’t afford to do this, but I believe that I must. It’s money that doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to God concluded the letter. The widow?in Mark’s story could have thrown in one mite and kept the other for herself. Under the circumstances of her life it would have been a prudent thing to do. Certainly giving one coin would have qualified as a sacrifice by anyone’s standards, seeing that there were only two to begin with. But prudence is not what her giving was about. It was about giving her all to God whom she loved and to His work in which she believed. All she cared to keep back for herself was His promise to take care of her.
3. Not by its amount but by its portion. A certain church had experienced growth that demanded an enlargement of their facilities. It represented quite a step of faith. They prayed, planned, and worked together. It was an exciting moment as together they came to begin raising funds for this multimillion dollar project. An appeal was made to the congregation to share in this need by sacrificial giving. After the service, a woman gave the pastor a check for $50.00, asking at the same time if her gift was satisfactory. The pastor replied, If it represents you. The woman left with the check. A few days later she returned with a check for $5,000.00 and again asked if her gift was satisfactory. The pastor replied, If it represents you. And as before, she took back the check and left. The pastor became quite worried wondering if he might have offended her. He also wondered if he would ever see her again. Two weeks later the woman returned with a big smile on her face. This time the check was for $50,000.00. She said, After earnest prayer, I know this gift does represent me, and I am happy to give it to the church for our new project.
How was the widow in Mark’s story able to give so generously and unreservedly? What we believe affects the way we act. The way we act affects what we believe. Was it worth it for her to give all she had? We aren’t told what happened to the widow after she left the temple that day. One can’t imagine that God would have let her go destitute and hungry after such a profound display of faith. Mark gives us an idea of what she received that day.
She gained lasting prominence. People spend millions building monuments or establishing positions of power, in an attempt to keep their memory alive long after they’re dead. Two thousand years after her death, this woman is still known around the world. Yet this lasting reputation cost less than a penny. It wasn’t the greatness of the amount that earned her reputation. It was the greatness of the act. She received praise from Jesus. She also received the joy that comes with being a contributor to God’s work. His praise, most impressively, came to her just days before the church, to which she had given her all, would nail Him to a cross. During His last week on earth she had the privilege of blessing Jesus, all by doing nothing more than giving what she had.
What we believe affects the way we act. The way we act affects what we believe. John 3:16 tells us that God gave us His only begotten Son. If we believe that, how then should we act? Especially when it comes to Giving?