Mark 12 is often used to describe how we should give our money. But it would be a mistake to use a despicable situation to draw up expectations for giving. In this sermon, Abe Johnson shows us how this situation was not how it was supposed to be and how we should really interpret this passage.
Mark 12 is often interpreted to show us how to give. It tells the story of a widow who put in her small change in the treasury. But, this passage wasn’t about the widow as much as the situation that the widow lived in. To understand that, we only need to look back a few chapters to see the point Jesus was trying to make.
In the chapters leading up to this story of the widow, Jesus had just arrived in Jerusalem, and one of the first things he did was go to the temple and inspect things. He wanted to see the condition of the situation in his Father’s house. And Jesus started doing crazy things, like cursing a fig tree, tossing temple tables, and going toe to toe with the best teachers and making them look foolish. Jesus was upset with the condition of things, and even called out the scribes and teachers who were devouring widow’s properties.
The teachers of the Law were the most educated, knew the Bible and had the influence in their day. They were the upstanding citizens in Israel. But they had a problem, and their problem was their heart, as they were in this to help themselves. They weren’t in it to help the widows and the fatherless, as the Old Testament commanded them to do.
Jesus wasn’t raising up this tragic situation as how giving should happen. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus commending people’s faith, actions and heart. Yet, this widow’s story does not have a commendation. This is because a widow shouldn’t give everything she has to the temple. The temple should be taking care of her.
We should attend to human need before religious obligation. Korban, a Hebrew word, was dedicating part of your income to the temple, a portion of income dedicated to the temple that couldn’t get back. This Korban was never freed up for human needs, such as helping parents in need. Instead, people would dedicate their money to the temple instead of using it to help the widows and others in their community. They were taught to put their religious obligation before helping others.
The widow was giving her Korban to the temple that day. Jesus was saying to the disciples, “don’t ever let this happen to my church.” The disciples were, for what we know, able to do that. Throughout the book of Acts and the epistle letters, we see the disciples living as a community and taking care of each other financially. We should also live like this.
Jesus lamented the situation at the temple. We need to lament our situations. We should grieve and mourn the things that cause pain in this world. The psalms have laments that explain pain and anguish towards God. There are many psalms of praise, but there are also laments that, as a community, were expressed to God. Too often, in our society, we let people grieve alone and deal with their problems alone. And that’s not the way that Jesus wants it.
It’s odd that these psalms end in a Hallelujah. A life of prayer will end in praise, but it might take awhile, as evidenced by the story of Naomi in the Old Testament. Naomi lost her children and husband, and was left as a widow. And for much of her life, she was not happy. She lamented all that had happened in her life and she felt hopeless. But, God provided for her needs with the people around her, specifically Ruth. Ruth cared for the widow, just as we are to care for the widows in this world.
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