Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Jesus watches the offering. He sees the offering made by the rich people and He watches the poor widow put in her offering. He sees who puts in a lot, and who puts in a little. He knows who has an abundance and who lives in poverty. But more than that, Jesus sees what is in their heart as they give those offerings. Jesus sees the motives for giving and the faith or lack of faith behind the giving.
That should probably give us pause: Jesus watches our offering, too.
Dear Christian friends: You all know the story, but you don’t know all the story. Our text that we’ll examine together this morning (evening) is the familiar story of the widow’s mite. We’ll look first at some of the things everyone knows about the text, then at something you may not know, and finally at one thing nobody knows. We’ll start with some things quite certain and move to some things less certain, and let’s see what God has to say also about our uncertainties.
Some things everyone knows about the story of the widow’s mite. I suspect we all know the story itself; it’s really very simple. Let’s review it again, our text for today, Mark 12:41-44:
And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And [Jesus] 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.”
Jesus sits down in the temple courtyard and watches people put in their offering. Offerings weren’t handled the way we do today, at a specific moment in the service. Instead, there were thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles in the courtyard of the temple. Worshipers would walk up and drop in their coins. They had no paper money, just copper or silver or gold coins. Often, people would mill around and watch—and give an appropriate reaction when a particularly shiny offering was made. As Jesus sits there that day, there are plenty of those offerings, probably duly noted by the people as they ooh and aah when they hear the clanging of many coins.
Then along comes a woman, a widow, obviously poor, with a couple of little copper coins, leptas, also called “mites” in the King James Version. These were the smallest coins in circulation—one sixty-fourth of a denarius, the common daily wage for a laborer. The widow’s offering could have been earned with just ten to twelve minutes of very ordinary work. It is a very small amount—unless it is all that you have! Jesus calls His disciples and tells them her offering is the greatest of all the offerings. Other guys gave more in raw dollars, but she has given all she has to live on. We all know the story, don’t we?
All of you probably also recognize this story teaches proportional giving. Jesus said the rich had given out of their abundance. It was a surplus, an overflow. They made a lot, and they gave a lot. But the woman gave all she had, 100 percent. The total dollars couldn’t compare, but percentage-wise, her gift was tops.
Proportional, or percentage giving is always the way God prescribes. Old Testament Israel was required to give 10 percent of their crops or whatever form of income they received. The tithe was God’s system of percentage giving. One reason God prescribed percentage giving is that it works at any income level, it grows or shrinks with the paycheck. It works for everybody.
Here in the New Testament, in our text, God still speaks about percentage giving, but He doesn’t demand a particular percentage. We can give more or less than 10 percent, right?
Right. But our offering should still reflect the way we’ve been blessed. How do our financial blessings compare with those of the widow of the text? More important, how have we been blessed spiritually compared to those Old Testament people who had to give 10 percent? They were blessed with the promise of a Savior to come someday. We are blessed with the certainty that the promise has been fulfilled. The Savior, Jesus Christ, has come. We know He died and rose from the dead for us, that He has taken away our sins, and made us His own in Holy Baptism. Could we really consider giving a lesser proportion of our income than people who only looked ahead for the promise?
The story of the widow’s mite teaches us that percentage giving is alive and well and God’s plan also for us in the New Testament. You all knew that too, didn’t you? Okay.
Now something you may not know—or may not always consider—about the story of the widow’s mite: It isn’t primarily a story about giving at all. All those rich guys putting money into the treasury—undoubtedly they were giving a hefty proportion. Ten percent was commanded; you can be sure anyone giving for show would exceed that! But someone could even give 100 percent and not be commended by the Lord. If we think our giving gets us good with God, then no percentage is good. No, the story of the widow’s mite is not primarily about giving. It’s primarily a story about faith.
Faith is recognizing what God has done for us in the past and believing what He will continue to do for us now and in the future. The widow in our text had so little of everything except faith. Yet somehow this woman believed God had done right by her and trusted that He would continue to do so in the future.
Christian giving is always a matter of faith. Do we recognize what God has done for us in the past? Do we trust He’ll be there for the future? God has given us all we have. He has given us a Savior. Do we believe He’ll continue to provide and save for the future? If we believe as the widow did, our giving will be in substantial proportion, too. Christian giving, therefore, is primarily a question of faith, isn’t it? Of trust that God will take care of us. The widow in our text trusted totally. Boy, does that come into play on the last thing we want to talk about.
One thing no one knows about the story of the widow’s mite: What happened to her after she gave? We like to think we know: surely Jesus and the disciples took her under their wing. Maybe she became part of their entourage. Unlikely. The women mentioned as following Jesus were women of means; they actually provided for Jesus. Surely Jesus didn’t walk away without helping that day, but what about future days? Did she starve? Maybe. It’s absolutely possible. We’d like to say, “No way! God would feed her!” But we don’t know that.
It’s no accident that Mark doesn’t tell us. If he did, it would ruin the story. If he did give us some earthly happy ending, we might think the point is that if we do what God wants, He’ll take care of us. If we tithe, our income will go up next year. If we pledge, God will be sure we don’t lose our jobs. If we obey God, He’ll care for us. But that is superstitious, even unscriptural. God cares for us because He loves us, not because we make a deal with Him.
Mark fully intends to leave us in uncertainty about what happened to the widow, because our Christian offering is always to be given in the face of uncertainty; it is always to be an exercise in faith. We don’t know about our jobs next year. We don’t know if the crops and their prices will be good. We don’t know we won’t face catastrophic bills. Losing your job and unexpected bills are absolutely possible. They’re always possible, because God doesn’t promise that kind of security.
What we do have is a far greater security—one that is altogether certain. Our Epistle from Hebrews reminds us, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time… to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28). Here’s something that’s never uncertain. Christ is coming back for us. Heaven is one certainty every Christian can hold on to. Jesus has secured it for us. His death and resurrection has made it certain for everyone who believes. And if we matter to God that much, we can also be certain that He will care for us every day in the meantime—somehow.
This was the faith of the woman. Not that she’d have a meal tomorrow; she didn’t really know where her next meal was coming from—or if there’d be one. Not faith in the next meal, but faith that God would take care of her—His way. Maybe a well-to-do widower would walk into her life tomorrow. Maybe friends would take her in. We don’t know the whole story, and she couldn’t possibly know it. She was giving into uncertainty, wasn’t she? Maybe she would starve, but if so, it would be the culmination of what she’d really been trusting all along: provision, security that would be perfect, complete, and would never end.
As you consider your future this morning (evening), you don’t know for sure your income for the coming year; you don’t know you’ll have an income. You don’t know you’ll have a job. You don’t know what your expenses might turn out to be. But you don’t have to give in to that uncertainty. You do know you have the Lord. You do know He has earned for you eternal life, and that’s absolutely certain. And you do know He already cares for you and that He’s going to care for you. That’s certain, too.
You know, ironically, the woman of great faith in our text probably didn’t realize that the one she was trusting was sitting so near her that day watching her offering, noting her God-given faith that trusted the Lord and His provision no matter what her current circumstances.
We do know the one we trust is with us, watching our offerings as well. We know that He sympathizes with our struggle. He understands financial uncertainty; His whole ministry was spent traveling, living day to day by the good graces of others. He understands our struggles against doubt, our fear about really committing our resources to God. He was tempted just as we are—but without ever giving in! In fact, when called upon, He offered up everything He had—His whole life—on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins. Jesus laid down His life and entrusted Himself into the care of the Father’s hands (Luke 23:46).
Risen and ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus is here with you today, and you can be certain He’ll be with you in the future. In Holy Baptism, He has made you a child of God, co-heir with Him of the kingdom of heaven, and has given you His Holy Spirit as a deposit. His Word and Absolution assure you of His love and grace. Along the way, He feeds you His very body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.
Christ’s love and sacrifice motivate and enable you to offer your whole life to Him as your daily offering of gratitude. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve Him with joy, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.