Week of November 5

An Example of Pure Sacrificial Giving

Read: Job 23-24; Mark 11-12
“And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”
Mark 12:43-44, ESV


Corrie Ten Boom once said, “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.” Speaking of contributions, have you ever wondered why Mark would include this story of a poor woman’s offering at this pivotal place in his Gospel account? I have! He makes a powerful point by calling all of us to measure our gifts by their quality, not simply their quantity. But why would he want us to focus on this woman? This gift? Let’s see!

The Meaning of the Text

The overall message in the “mite”
Mark has made our context clear by linking this pronouncement story to the preceding section by using the word “widow” (12:40 & 42). The scene takes place in the location where Jesus often conducted His teaching and ministry. The Temple treasury was in the court of the women where thirteen trumpet-shaped, offering receptacles were situated. People would give their Temple tax and voluntary offerings, for various purposes, in this place.
In case you wondered, there were specific names inscribed on each of the offering boxes: “‘New Shekel dues,’ ‘Old Shekel dues,’ ‘Bird-offerings,’ ‘Young birds for the Whole offering,’ ‘Wood,’ ‘Frankincense,’ ‘Gold for the Mercy-seat,’ and, on six of them, ‘Freewill-offerings’” (NAC; as trans. by Danby from m.Seqal.6.5). All right. We see that they apparently had church budgets, too, and the ever-present designated accounts! Seriously, though, this setting provides the basis for Jesus’ interaction with His disciples.
How to measure our devotion
There were a lot of “big-givers” there that day, we are told (12:41), but Jesus points out the largest giver of them all—a poor widow woman (12:42-43). I know that the preachers reading this account are chomping at their bits to pen giving sermons just in time for those year-end giving appeals. Well, hold your horses cowboys!
Our attitude as disciples. How could someone who gave two copper coins, the equivalent of 1/64 of a day’s wage, be counted as the largest giver? We may conclude that Jesus was focusing on her internal attitude and not just the external amount given. This is true to a degree, and we will certainly want to make sure that, whatever amount we give God, we give it from a heart filled with gratitude for God’s blessings (2 Corinthians 9:6-7; “cheerful giver”).
However, we should recall that Mark has been writing his Gospel with discipleship as a key theme, so it would be important for him to instruct readers about how to be good disciples. The widow shows us evidence of true discipleship. “She showed devotion to God first, freedom from materialism (10:21), and total trust in the good God who would care for her” (10:18). These are important lessons for all of us to learn, but there is still more to the passage.
The extent of our sacrifice. Jesus teaches us that the most important thing is not how much we give, but the extent of the sacrifice (cf. Brooks, NAC). Look again at the setting. The folks throwing coins into the boxes that day were largely giving out of their livelihood. Jesus was showing us the nature of the cross-life through the lens of that teaching moment. He would sacrifice all.
Jesus calls all His disciples to be willing to do the same—each day (Romans 12:1-2). Her act of giving would certainly place her into dire straits, render her unable to purchase food, or provide lodging, but it demonstrated an attitude of total trust upon God. Jesus demonstrated this same trust to the supreme degree by laying down His life on the cross. Winning discipleship begins by losing self and giving all for the sake of Christ (Mark 8:34).

The Message for Our Lives

The largest givers in our churches are very often those we may overlook. I have shared the name of LeRoy Minchew with many people through the years, because this dear man has long been my “woman with the two copper coins.” He was a tiny man by physical measurements, less than five-foot tall, but he towered in his giving attitude. Mr. Minchew always stood at the door of our church and gave candy to the children and a warm greeting to their families as they entered the building. He was not an elected church greeter, nor was he on any of the church committees, as I recall. He simply made his way to the “treasury” each Sunday and carried out a ministry that forever has reminded me to give like Jesus gave—totally and from a pure heart.
The spiritual point for our lives. Glen Stassen and David Gushee have written that “the lives of believers in Jesus Christ are shaped by His Way” (Kingdom Ethics). By this, they mean that He is Lord and, as such, exercises authority over His Church and over the lives of believers. This is ultimately to become second nature to a growing Christian and is the Christian’s frame of reference. Easier said than done, because many Christians receive such a claim to authority with a feeling of revulsion! They are not the first to do so.
I find it deeply significant that Mark ends Jesus’ public ministry with this account. That’s right. This story was the last recorded event in Jesus’ public ministry. It begs a question for us, doesn’t it? How would we wish for our own “public ministry” to end? To be remembered?

For Thought and Action

1. This may seem silly but take time to open your wallet or purse. What do you see there? Whatever amount is in there will not last. Now, look in the mirror for a moment. You are God’s donation to the needs around you today. Spend it well on serving others in Christ’s name.
2. For Families: Our children, although often self-absorbed, are sometimes surprisingly unselfish beings. Have your children ever wished they had funds of their own to help others, and if they did not, pestered you to give them money to do so?

This is a great time to ask them to participate in an experiment with you. Give each child a one-dollar bill, and tell them it must last for a whole week to purchase what they need. New school paper? Lunch at the cafeteria? That snack they love to buy at the gas station? Let them know that they will not get any more money this week from your hand, but they can spend that dollar in any way they wish.

Now share the story of the widow’s mite with your kids, and tell them to take out that dollar bill and imagine that it is a small coin in the woman’s hand. Encourage them to think about the story all week. Wait and watch to see what happens to that money.

One week later, make some hot chocolate and invite the kids to the kitchen table. Ask them, each one in turn, how that money experiment went. What did they choose to do with the money? How did hearing the story of the widow’s mite change the way they saw their dollar bill? Did they sense God was speaking to their hearts? If so, what was God saying to them?

Share with them that it is not money God needs, but their hearts that love Him most. When we love God more than anything else, we will make decisions about money that will help others.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock