Stewardship, offerings, tithes, giving … these are all terms that even good Christians tend to use with hushed voices and furtive glances, or raised voices and heated debates. It is as close to a taboo subject as you are likely to find in our circles. And it is certainly no easier to swallow when words like subsidy, shortfall and deficit are bandied about.
But so much of our unease regarding the subject of proper giving comes from our misunderstanding of what it is all about. The problem, you see, is that too often we just don’t get it. For too many of us, all our talk about giving is really only thinly veiled talk about keeping! When a person asks how much they should give, they are really asking how much they can hold on to. When a congregation asks what they need to get by, what they are usually asking is what they can do without. When a person asks how much is enough, their heart is already screaming out that whatever the answer it will be too much!
Should we give according to pre or post taxes? Gross or Net? Automatic withdrawal, or must I physically put it in the plate? To even ask the question is to have already missed the whole point. And so it is that we find Jesus sitting in the Temple one day, teaching His disciples a very important lesson about giving.
(41-43) And he 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 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.”
This poor widow is a living picture of giving without advertizing. A giving, not out of the richness of one’s own heart, but the poverty of ones own spirit. A giving that is less concerned with the giver, than the recipient. A giving that is not in any way, shape, or form, really only about keeping. Jesus points this widow out to the disciples because she is a foil.
(38-40) And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
She is a foil for all those whose giving is really more about keeping. What is 10% if the other 90% is still yours? What is 25%, if 75% is still yours to claim and hold on to? She is a foil for all those who give out of their riches an offering to themselves. Look at me, I’m doing what I should! I’m giving back my dues. I’m paying my way, earning my accolades. I’m buying the favour of God and men!
Her giving all she had to live on sprang from her true faith, expecting God to provide not only her daily bread but the promised Saviour (from sin) as well. In contrast to this, the scribes give and do all that they do only to win praise and glory from men. This earns them greater condemnation.
You see dear friends, the real question the text is asking is not “how much is enough?” but “What does true religion look like?” The answer had to be absolutely shocking to Jesus’ listeners. They no doubt accorded the Pharisees and scribes the honor these men sought and expected. Now, Jesus says that they are not only an example of hypocrisy but are actually guilty of robbing widows to do it! Even after all that they kept back for themselves, everything they did give they gave to themselves, not to God. For their glory and honour, not His.
So what does true religion look like? A widow who fleeces herself for God. A giving that answers “How much?” with “All or Nothing!” Giving, not out of the richness of one’s own heart, but the poverty of one’s own spirit. A giving that is less concerned with the giver, than the recipient. A giving that is not in any way, shape, or form, really only about keeping.
(43-44) “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.”
Is Jesus here commending her? Perhaps. Perhaps He is only stating the truth of the situation. But we should not go too far in our paise for her. Even if in this gift she held nothing back, you can be sure there were other parts of her life she kept for herself. She is only human after all. In her own way, she helps us see what true giving – Christian giving – is all about … but she is not a perfect giver. It is not about her.
But in that temple on that day sits the one it is truly all about! In all the lines of rich and poor alike, was one who was perfect in His giving. One who understood the true meaning of giving offerings to the Lord. One who would keep nothing back for Himself, but give it all up for God’s glory … and our salvation. The widow gave her whole livelihood. But Jesus gave more: He gave His whole life. He gave “his all,” so that widow, those rich scribes, and each one of us might “have it all. Forgiveness of sins (even the sin of selfish giving), life, and salvation.
This text is not teaching a moral lesson on giving. It is demonstrates the radical difference between the world’s view of giving and God’s view of living. Asking ‘How much’ is never enough. God has given, God is giving, and God will give His all for you, keeping nothing back for Himself. Remembering this gift in Christ, receiving His gifts in Word and Sacraments, and giving thanks for His all in all, will make all other questions about giving beside the point. Even the greatest of our gifts to God is given in poverty, and every gift we have to give is a gift from Him in Jesus Christ our Lord!