Vol. 10 — No. 47 November 23, 1969
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
In Christ Jesus, who enabled us to love Him because He first loved us, Fellow Redeemed:
The Trinity Season of the church year is drawing to a close. For many churches the close of the Trinity Season and also the Advent Season have a special meaning and significance that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many people. This season of the year has come to be the Stewardship Season. It is characterized by “money sermons,” “budget crisis meetings,” “special pleas,” and so on. There are many who are compelled by the situation to say that there is really little need for them to go to their churches from now till the end of the year because they know what they will be hearing in advance—the tiring and monotonous drumming for more money to meet the budget of the church.
We are most fortunate in our congregation because we have never had any need for such pressure-pumping for funds. The bulletin that you have received this morning brings you the report of our treasurer that this past month we have reached the highest twelve month average of giving in the history of our congregation. In brief, the current financial situation and outlook in our congregation is excellent. So it would seem that now is a most excellent time to make sure that we all understand the Lord’s teaching concerning giving unto Him.
The fact that our church finances are in excellent shape does not automatically prove that all the members of our congregation understand the Lord’s teaching on this subject. A church may be wealthy, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a healthy church. We need but be reminded of the fact that contributions to the temple at Jerusalem had to be curbed, not commanded, by law about the same time that Jesus declared the temple desolate because its worshipers had rejected Him. It is a fact of history that for the most part people will work harder for, give more for, and suffer more for lies and falsehoods than others will work, give, and suffer for the truth. It is also a sad fact that many people who receive the blessings of the Gospel, preached in its truth and purity in their midst, never learn that the whole message of the Gospel can be summed up in one word—GIVING: God’s GIVING to us in and through His Son, which is to call forth the response of our giving of ourselves unto the Lord.
The story of our text is most amazing, especially when one considers the time and circumstances when it occurred. It was at the end of His last great day of teaching in the Temple, Tuesday of Holy Week, that Jesus took up a position near the treasury, specifically so that He could watch the people as they came and put their offerings in those trumpet shaped receptacles. Jesus had just finished giving most serious spiritual warnings to the Jews. He had taught the parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Final Judgment. It may seem to some of us that something like contributions to the temple would be the last thing that would enter His mind. It might seem that the mind of Jesus would be occupied with what He knew would happen that week—His institution of the Holy Supper, His being betrayed, His suffering and death upon the cross. But yet in the midst of all these events, which are of utmost importance to us for our salvation, Jesus took time to sit down and watch the people as they gave their offerings. And this is the only time that the Evangelists record that He did this. Now what truth does this story hold before us? This, that—
What is He looking For?
Many people passed by and brought their offerings, and St. Mark records that many rich people brought very liberal gifts. But Jesus just kept on sitting there and watching. He didn’t react until a poor widow came along, whose name we won’t learn until we reach heaven. After she had brought her offering, Jesus called His disciples together, for He had something to say to them. He said that this woman stood out because “she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” She didn’t buy her groceries first and pay her rent and take care of the light bill and then consider whether there was anything left for the Lord. No, she gave the grocery money—“even all—not part of, but all—her living.” What must there have been in her heart to move her to do that? One word gives the whole answer—faith. She could give all because she still had the Lord her God. And she knew that if she had Him, she always had more than enough.
This is what our Savior-God is looking for when the offering plate comes down the pew and we place our offerings thereon. God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. Jesus did not shrink back. He drank the cup of suffering. He has provided what we can’t provide for ourselves—forgiveness for the sin that we commit, removal of the guilt that lies heavy upon us, life for us who are sure to die. These are facts that awaken and strengthen faith. Are we to believe that after our Savior-God has done all this, He will abandon us in our daily lives? Are we to believe that after He has conquered sin, Satan, and death, He is helpless to care for us here on earth? Lord, forgive our unbelief! Lord, strengthen our faith! Lord, send us your Spirit so that you may be able to see faith in our hearts when we bring our offerings to you!
Jesus is watching when the ushers carry our offerings to His altar. What is He looking for?
The Gospels report only this single occasion when Jesus sat and watched the giving of offerings, but in His Word to us through His Apostle Paul the Lord speaks of “laying in store upon the first day of the week.” (I Cor. 16:2) The Lord taught us to pray for our daily bread. Wouldn’t we complain if the Lord were careless in supplying us with daily bread, if He would do that on a hit or miss basis? The Lord taught us to pray for His forgiveness of our sins. Luther taught us to understand that we daily sin much and stand in need of His daily and rich forgiveness. The Lord’s giving to us is a daily experience—whether we are aware of it or not. What does He expect of us? A daily response of giving to Him! This is what the Apostle was speaking about when He spoke of laying in store and then regularly giving unto the Lord. That regularity may be a weekly rhythm or a monthly one, but it would be difficult to consider a giving once a year or whenever one happens to wander into the church to be in conformity with the Lord’s instructions in this regard.
The Lord keeps watching our giving. Don’t think for a moment that He isn’t interested in what we sometimes call just “money matters.” What is He looking for? He’s looking—
We are told that as Jesus watched “many that were rich cast in much.” We may be inclined to say: “Well they should because they’ve got it.” But Jesus kept on watching: “And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.” And that was all that she had, and Jesus knew it! It’s important to note also what Jesus didn’t do. He didn’t jump and rush over to this widow and tell her: “Now, madam, it’s obvious that you are poor, and I as the all-knowing Lord know that this is the last money you have, so you better keep it for yourself because we don’t need it that bad!” We might call that a common sense, practical reaction to the situation. The Lord would call that reaction most cruel. It would have been robbing this woman of the joy, YES, I MEAN JOY, of giving to her Lord and so exercising her faith.
Who is to give to the Lord? The answer is so very simple: All who receive from Him! This is a truth that parents should be teaching their children when they first begin to exercise their earning power. You parents who have sons that have paper routes or do yard work or have daughters that can baby sit—you are to be instructing your sons and daughters that they have received the strength, the intelligence, the health, the will and determination to work from the Lord. In addition they receive daily grace without which they wouldn’t be children of God. The Lord gives, and the only proper response for a child of God is returning to the Lord of the FIRSTFRUITS of one’s labors—not from the bottom after we’ve indulged ourselves in everything that we want or desire or think we need.
Is the message wearing on you? Let me repeat it once again: The Lord keeps watching as we give unto Him! And what is He looking For?
Let no one ever think that the Lord is unconcerned about the size of our offerings! But also—let no one ever think that the Lord judges the size of our offerings in dollars and cents, as ye are naturally inclined to do. Jesus watched that day, and saw many rich people cast in large sums. They really stood out in the minds of men, but they were small in the sight of the Lord. Then this widow came along and gave two mites. She could have kept one, since that was all that she had, but she gave them both. We couldn’t give that small an amount because our penny is worth more than her mites. Yet Jesus evaluated the size of her gift in this way: “Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury.” How does the Lord figure? “For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” This is what Paul teaches when he says that the size of our gifts should be determined “as God hath prospered him.” We call that proportionate giving. No one knows how much you should be giving but the Lord, because He alone knows all that He has given you and me. But He watches, and He passes judgment on the size of our offerings.
The Lord keeps watching us. He watches also—
When the opportunity presented itself, the Lord called His disciples together to praise this unknown woman. Notice that he didn’t call the woman, because He didn’t want to praise her publicly and embarrass her and possibly spoil her. So also today the Lord doesn’t flash signs down from heaven like “Well done,” “Excellent,” “Good,” “Not so good,” “Poor.” And we don’t do that either. Our giving is to be a private matter between us and our God. For that reason no public report is given on individual giving. For the protection of the treasurer and in the interest of good order the treasurer gives individual reports at the end of the year. But this does not mean that the Lord may not on occasion call the holy angels together for them to rejoice with Him over the fruits of faith of some of His children here on earth.
The Lord loves to praise faith wherever He finds it. He was amazed and praised the faith of the centurion of Capernaum and of the Syrophenician woman. Is the Lord amazed and pleased with the faith that He sees in your heart and mine? Is our faith productive of fruit? These questions only you—each one of us—can answer. We should be concerned, for faith without works is dead and death-bringing. May the Lord grant that our faith be living and ever productive. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.