People watching. While dating in college, Emily and I did a lot of people watching in downtown Chicago. It never disappointed. There was the travelling Casino man who rode on the “L” (the elevated train). He had three bottle caps and a small bean. He would move them around and get people to bet $20 to guess which cap it was under. When they won, he would get them double down, and they would always lose. I was glad I never participated. Then there were the street evangelists who would blare their threatening lines that the end of the world was coming, trying to scare people into repentance. There were street entertainers of all kinds, from jugglers to musicians. My favorite was a group of boys who were percussionists that played on five gallon pales. They were amazing. Then there were the silver people. They were people who painted themselves completely in silver paint and stand as statues. Occasionally they would move in a rather robotic fashion and then resume the position of a statue like character. There truly never was a dull moment in downtown Chicago when it came to people watching.
Our text says that Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people (Mark 12:41a). Jesus watched the people. He watched the people putting money into the offering box. Imagine if we had our ushers do that, or the elders, or perhaps the pastor watch each person as they put in money into the offering plate. Just imagine.
The truth is, at the suggestion of the previous MN South District President, the Council was directed to watch attendance and giving trends during this vacancy. Thus far, it’s been noticed that while attendance is slightly up, giving is slightly down. The reason for watching such a trend is that their experience, the District believes that it is vital for congregations to maintain attendance and giving integrity throughout a vacancy in preparation for when the vacancy concludes.
Now such watching of giving to the church was quite a bit different in Jesus’ day. In His day, there were thirteen receptacles located around the temple courtyard. And it was not uncommon for people to watch others give their tithe. You see, in those days, the command was that a ten percent tithe was to be given to the Lord. But because this was a public affair, many of the wealthy would give even more in hopes of drawing attention to themselves and their giving. That is exactly what Jesus witnessed. The text says that Jesus saw many rich people put in large sums (Mark 12:41b).
But then the focus of this people watching session made a dramatic shift to the most unexpected person. A poor widow. Where no one else would have focused in on her, Jesus makes her the focal point of this teachable moment for the disciples and for us. A teachable moment on more than just giving, but rather a teachable moment on faith.
And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny (Mark 12:42). Here the wealthy are lined up putting in large sums of money. Others are no doubt impressed by the sound those large sums make as they enter into one of those thirteen receptacles. We might guess that the disciples were impressed too.
But not Jesus. No, Jesus hones in on a widow who gives two small copper coins. No doubt when they landed in one of those receptacles, no one even heard the little plinking sounds they made. No one really cared about those two small copper coins.
Those two copper coins were known as lepta. They were the smallest form of currency. If one were to work a day’s wage and make a denarius, they would be making sixty-four lepta. So, what this widow gave as an offering was 1/32 of a day’s wage. That means that this amount would be what the average worker makes in fifteen minutes of work, to give us some perspective. To anyone else there, this offering was completely without significance. Except for Jesus.
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).
The disciples must have been quite flabbergasted to hear such a line from Jesus. How could this woman’s offering be more than what others were giving? She only gave two lepta. That’s nothing. Or almost nothing. But Jesus counters such a thought in saying that what might be deemed as nothing by most, is everything to him.
As I said, this is a teachable moment on more than just giving. It is a teachable moment on faith. This woman was a widow, which meant that her husband had died, and in those days that meant that her source of income and support was no longer present with her to provide for her. She did not know where her next meal would come from or if it would come. All we know from the text is that everything she had, she gave.
What’s more is that we don’t know what happens afterwards. In the words of Paul Harvey, we don’t know “the rest of the story.” We don’t know if the disciples and Jesus cared for her. We don’t know if family or friends took her into their homes. We don’t know if she may have died within the next few days from starvation. Though we want to think that Jesus and the disciples did not abandon her in her time of need, the truth of the matter is that we don’t know. And for good reason.
Just like this woman didn’t know her future when she gave to the Lord, nor do we. There is not-a-one of us here who knows what the future holds. We don’t know if we will have enough money for food tomorrow. We don’t know if our job will be there for us to go to anymore. We don’t know if the number of our days will be ended. We simply don’t know what the future holds.
For many of us, that causes us a great deal of unrest and anxiety. We worry, and how often, more than naught, is our worrying about finances. We fixate on finances, and all the while forget about the fulfillment of God’s promises. We allow anxiety to overwhelm us to the point that giving to the Lord might be diminished to an afterthought. First fruits might get lost in the shuffle to the point that if we give, it might only be from our leftovers.
You see, this is where the freedom of percentage giving comes in. Where the Old Testament commanded a ten percent tithe, the New Testament leads us to give a percentage of our income. Though it does not specify a specific percentage, we are encouraged to give of our first fruits giving thanks for all that the Lord has done for us. That means if we make a thousand dollars one week or a hundred dollars the next, the amount of giving may change, but the percentage does not. This is freeing. Because, let’s be real. Some of us don’t know how much we will make in a year, or a month, or even in a week. But when we give thanks based upon a percentage gift to the Lord, it removes the fear of trying to maintain a specific dollar amount when the circumstances of life may become more trying.
The amazing thing about this story is that Jesus, who knows and sees all things, says that she put in everything she had, all she had to live on. God doesn’t look at the amount she gave. He looks at the heart. Where others were giving that they may be seen by others, she gave so that God might be seen and glorified, and the needs of others might be met. All the while she had faith that God would provide for her needs of body and soul, no matter what happened the next day. She truly feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things thanks to the faith that had been given to her.
Such faith is given to us as well. In the water and Word of Holy Baptism, we were given the faith to believe in Jesus as our Savior. But with that gift of faith, God doesn’t promise us that when we give to the Lord, we will be blessed with health or wealth. He doesn’t promise us that we will be millionaires or that we will get a raise or always have the job we desire. Truth is, we don’t know what the future holds in this life.
What we do know is that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). We have been given to know and believe that among all the uncertainties of life, there is one thing that is always certain as baptized believers in Jesus. Salvation is secure. It is guaranteed. It has been secured and guaranteed by the One who gave everything He had, all He to live on.
As the song goes: “He gave His life, what more could He give? Oh how He loves you…oh how he loves me. Oh how He loves you and me.” In love for you and me Jesus secured for us salvation in heaven with Him. He made sure that when that last day arrives and we see Him descend from the clouds, that will not be a day that we will face with fear.
That is what is so remarkable about the faith of this woman who gave the two small copper coins. Her faith wasn’t in her next meal or her next place to stay. She wasn’t storing up treasures on earth only to see them rust and decay. Her treasures were in heaven, right where they ought to belong. Her faith was in her God who loved her so much that He sent His Son. It’s no wonder Jesus sat and watched her God-given faith in action.
To think that she displayed such faith and Jesus hadn’t even died on the cross yet, is quite amazing. To think that He was sitting right there and only three chapters later in the book of Mark He would be bleeding and dying for her salvation. We don’t know, but perhaps she lived and was even able to witness His crucifixion and resurrection. We don’t know.
What we do know is that we live on the other side of Christ’s sacrificial death. We are privileged to gather here and look back and see that the promise that was made for us and all humanity has been fulfilled. We gather here celebrating that the resurrection of the dead is a reality. And we gather here to give thanks to God for the faith He has given us so that we may believe that when He comes again our salvation is a guarantee. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.