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Pentecost 23 Sermon — Mark 12:38-44 (LSB Proper 27B)

November 8, 2009

November 8, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “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.”

In the Gospel Reading for today, the Church is given a glimpse at the collection in Jerusalem’s Temple during the days before Jesus’ crucifixion. No offering plates are being passed around, but sacrificial gifts of thanksgiving and for atonement are being made. One-by-one, people enter the temple grounds, making their way to the offering box. People of all stripes are there, from “the scribes who like to walk around in long robes” to the common folk of Judea.

Rich and poor alike, the faithful people of God come to give their offerings. These attract the watchful eye of Jesus: “He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.” Jesus observes what is put into the collection. All is done as it should be, following the Levitical Code set by the Lord God: “Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” As required, the offerings are given.

But one of the givers piques Jesus’ interest. He observed them all, but the widow with her two small copper coins causes Jesus to comment publicly to His disciples: “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’ statement tells why He is interested in the widow and her gift. It isn’t her dress, her hard scrabble life, her age. No, it is the amount she gives. Two mites are dropped into the offering box—a minimal amount, to be sure. But Jesus declares that the copper coins are of greater value than the pounds of gold and silver clanging in the charity containers. By any monetary measure, Jesus’ words make no sense at all. Copper has been worth less than gold and silver for millennia. Bags of coins outweigh and outpurchase a single pair of mites. Jesus’ words may have seemed ludicrous and loony.

But hear again why Jesus says the widow’s two mites are worth more than all the little fortunes given by the wealthy: “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.” The offerings of the rich held more monetary value, but the widow’s mites comprised all her assets. Once those coins hit the bottom of the offering box, the widow had no more to give from her state of poverty. The two ha-pennies may not have purchased anything great, not even a dove from the temple vendors, but they were a complete, total gift. Nothing was held back.

So why should this attract Jesus’ attention? Why are this widow and her small offering recorded by the Evangelist? It isn’t to teach you that pennies can add up to great amounts of money. That lesson is true, but it doesn’t take Jesus to tell you that. St. Mark didn’t include this incident to give a first-century stewardship lesson to an ancient congregation. The widow and her mites didn’t make the canonical Scriptures in order for the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League to distribute little boxes for offerings. Though, it must be said that it is wonderful that the mite boxes are given and used, since the collected coins accumulate to great gifts for mission projects home and abroad.

No, this event teaches us about Jesus. Consider again why Jesus praises the widow and her two-coin gift: “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.” The totality of the widow’s gift causes Jesus to praise her. Her two-coin gift shows her faith: she believes that the Lord God will provide for her. She puts everything she had in the offering box, abiding by the divine commands concerning gifts to the Lord God. She acts out of her belief that the Lord God can rightly instruct her to give her coins—even if they are the last two in her purse—and demand her obedience. But her faith is also in the descriptions given about the Lord God’s care, just as the Widow of Zarephath was not abandoned in her want, and just as today’s psalm declares: The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin.”

The mite-giving widow stands as a great example of faith. She is to be held up in front of the Twelve and all of Jesus’ disciples as someone to praise and to imitate. So her story has been recounted by Christians for centuries. But this widow’s gift also teaches about Jesus, and for that reason, it is to be even more remembered. Her offering is total—“she has put in everything she had”—and as such, it is a pattern or type of Jesus’ sacrifice. What Jesus says about the widow’s offering, He can say about what He would a few days later in Jerusalem. Jesus praises the widow’s total offering on Tuesday; He will offer a sacrifice of the same measure on Friday.

The completeness of Jesus’ sacrifice is the reason for the Author’s statement that you heard from today’s Epistle Reading: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not His own, for then He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

The Author’s statement describes Jesus’ sacrifice. By offering Himself, giving out of His poverty, leaving nothing back, Jesus has made atonement for the world. Jesus doesn’t drop bags of gold into an offering box. Jesus doesn’t take some of the riches of the world He created and offer it to God the Father. No, it is just as you learned in the Small Catechism: “[He] purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death . . . .” There is no other way to describe that offering other than tweaking what Jesus said about the widow: “[He] has put in everything [He] had.”

The totality of Christ’s sacrifice shows His trustworthiness. What we learn about His action proves what the Lord God says to us in today’s psalm: Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessèd is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever. . . .” Nothing of this world—not all the gold, silver, and copper; not any of the strength of man—can provide salvation. But the Creator of heaven and earth, who assumed humanity, and sacrificed His life, keeps faith forever, even for sinners who turn to Him for deliverance.

So you find what you need for eternity in Jesus, the One has put in everything He had for you. He is your hope for forgiveness, life, and salvation. He has made great and precious promises to all who trust in Him. Jesus says: “Believe in Me and the One who sent Me, and you will have everlasting life. Trust in My sacrifice that I offer for your sins and the sins of the world. I have overcome your great enemies: sin, death, and Satan. Because I have prepared a place for you, I will return and deliver you from this world of toil and trouble to live with Me for eternity.” All these effects of Jesus’ total and complete sacrifice are why the Author states about Him: Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”

Trusting in what Jesus has given for you and anticipating His return, you can give of yourselves and your possessions. You know that you will not lack any good thing. Even in the poverty of this world, you have been made owners of life and salvation. You have a great inheritance to receive at the time of your Lord’s return. What you have been promised by Him who gave His life and took it up again for your salvation proves the things of this world to be transitory and of no true value. So if the copper coins of creation can be used for others to be shown Christ’s love and to receive the benefits of Christ’s eternal and complete sacrifice, then toss them in the offering box! Know that the Lord God will still provide for you here on earth and there in eternity.

Having the faith of the widow that receives the profits of Jesus’ offering, you are heirs of everlasting life. Eagerly await His return, anticipating the day when you will take full possession of everything that is meant to be yours. Jesus has put in everything that He has, so that you who were lacking may appear in the presence of God. For your God does reign forever, keeping faith with you whose hope is not in the coins of this world, but in His total sacrifice for your salvation.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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