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November 11, 2018            The Lesson of The Mite                    Mark 12:38-44

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Like sands thru an hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”   You may recognize that phrase; it comes from an old-time soap-opera: ‘Days of our lives.’ There used to be so many daytime TV dramas: /All my children, /As the world turns, /The young and the restless, /Guiding light.   I don’t know about you, they’ve never interested me. I know of a pastor who’s reason for not being a soap opera fan is because the story never ends. Each plot or sub-plot simply morphs into another; the emotional drama is unbearably dragged out for months or years. Days of our Lives is a good example, which began airing in Nov.1965 until the present day = well-over 13,000 episodes!

This pastor even wonders about some of his soap opera-watching parishioners; he suspects that when God calls them to heaven, they won’t be ready to go until they find out whether Rob is going to be truthful with Louise; or whether Gwen is going to get together with Gary. And just when you think the answer will be revealed in the next episode, a new twist comes into the situation, or a new person; and the story goes on & on.

Most people want to know how things turn out; I do.   How many 400-page books or 3-hour movies can there be when Harry Potter is threatened again by Voldemort, & narrowly escapes death, but the villain is not finished = did the story ever end? The movie Titanic couldn’t just finish with the two main characters standing on the deck as it’s sinking; we want to know what happens to them: *Do they live; do they die?  A couple of weeks ago, when the Vikings & Packers game ended in a tie, the disappointed sports-casters described it as = ‘it’s like kissing your sister’; not a great ending.   At least the World Series & the Super Bowl are played until there’s a winner;  because we want an ending to the story.

Sometimes we’re curious that way with events in the Bible; like with the little day-time-drama involving the widow and her mites. The Greek term is ‘lepton’, which means ‘small’;   the smallest copper coin in Judea at the time, 2 of them were barely worth a penny. Jesus was in Jerusalem with his disciples, and they sat down in one of the courtyards of the great Jewish temple.

From their vantage point, they could see the people giving their gifts or offerings to God. It had to be fascinating. There were rich people and poor people, /locals and those from far off.   In those days, when offerings were collected, they didn’t ‘pass the plate’ as most churches do today.   It was customary to walk in to a special area, and put your gift-to-God into one of 13 metal horns. Each ‘funnel’ was attached to its own separate offering box, and each had its own purpose.   Put your money in one horn, and your gift went towards supporting the priests; place your cash in another, and it provided for those who were in poverty, or to help with the maintenance of the temple.

It was quite an interesting sight to see the people stepping up to those boxes: young & old, women & men, rich & not-so-rich;   and there was the noise as those coins hit the metal horns. In those days there was no silent paper money. Coins were gold, silver, bronze or copper.   I’ll bet a person could actually hear the difference in the sound of each of those; so you could kind-of tell what & how much a person was giving.

Different people, different stories. That day, Jesus & his disciples might have seen + a fine-looking fellow from Phoenicia put in his money to fulfill a promise to God made long ago.   +There could’ve been a Pharisee, who with a great show of attention, made sure his coins gave a loud & long ring. +They might have watched a very old Alexandrian shuffle-in to share his precise, proportional, 10% -tithe.

The priests on duty may have smiled when they saw a heavy purse opened, and heard an avalanche of gold sliding into the trumpet-topped offering boxes. This set-up made this event quite-a-show; some would give with pomp & style, others giving with quiet loyalty & duty.   We know many eyes & ears were open and attentive, and some were keeping ‘score’ = because competition & curiosity is human nature. BUT there was One watching with a different attention & understanding, which was more than human nature.

That One was Jesus. Jesus spent his time that day looking at the heart of the givers, and not the heft of their gifts. Jesus did not note the design of their clothes, but gazed upon the condition of their souls. And, as Jesus watched, he saw a widow approach the collection boxes. Her arrival went quite unnoticed by the rest; an unimportant person.

Her thank-offering was two small copper coins; the King James Bible calls them ‘mites,’  which made almost no noise at all. And once given, the lady went away to the other duties of her day.

It was then, just before the lady would’ve been blended back into the crowd, that Jesus pointed her out to the Twelve. He didn’t jump up, and go to her, to praise her face-to-face. That would’ve been both embarrassing & unnecessary to her.   As God, Jesus knew that her gift was between her and him = rather personal. He understood & respected her sincere act of devotion which she made to the merciful Lord of Life.   And when Jesus spoke of her to his disciples, he didn’t talk about her or her life = her good successes or bad sins, or about the loneliness or hardship she had felt at the loss of her husband. In many ways, this was no event at all; no star-actors in this drama;  just a very common & uninteresting story.

AND YET, there was something uncommon about her. So, Jesus calls attention to her, and His Et.Word preserves her as a real-life parable-truth for all people and all time.   As she shuffled away, we hear Jesus say:  “You know, we’ve seen some pretty big gifts today, but the truth is, that lady right there, with two small coins, has made the biggest gift of all.

Everyone else has made contributions from their excess, which they will hardly miss.  

But she has given what she couldn’t afford.   She had no excess, except an excess of faith;

she has given her all.”

*Why would Jesus point this out? We might think he did because it would be an illustration for US to examine our giving; to make our offerings in proportion to our income, and then to add more =sacrificially= and to trust God enough to give Him our first & best.   That would be a good lesson, and it is a truth we hear elsewhere from God. But that’s NOT the most important lesson here.

At this particular time, Jesus would’ve appreciated the complete sacrifice she made as an illustration for us to see & ponder God’s giving of a Savior.   Jesus’ entire life had been spent making a complete sacrifice for us. Of course, Jesus’ contribution would not be counted in money, but poured out in blood.   If you & I wish to see complete sacrifice, we should look again at the next days of the Savior’s life after what he said about this widow. She is not an illustration of what WE give to God, but what HE has given to us.

This little drama takes place during ‘Holy Week’, Passover week. It’s just after Palm Sunday; and before this week was done, Jesus would be betrayed by one of his own disciples over to his enemies; / His chief disciple would repeatedly deny ever having known him; / then all of them would run away from him, and he would face his suffering alone.

Before this week was finished, Jesus would be convicted for crimes he did not commit.   The ‘supreme court’ of his time would illegally try him =more than once= until they got the outcome they wanted.   Men would lie about him under oath, and they would declare him worthy of death, because He had told The Truth: He said he was the Son of God, equal to God, and they refused to believe it. The Roman gov’t official of the region would agree to sentence him to be scourged & crucified, even tho Pontius Pilate knew Jesus was innocent.

As Jesus observed this widow’s sacrificial giving, He knew this was ‘the week’ that would change human history. Before this week was over, Jesus would be dead, having been nailed to a cross outside the city, and hanging there being insulted by those passing by, even by those whom he helped & taught about his Father of mercy & love.

AND, in fact, His Father would also abandon Him, because Jesus was covered in our sin.   Christians know & believe that THIS is the definition of complete sacrifice; it was made willingly & without complaint out of love /for you & me, /for our neighbors, /& for everyone we run into. The redemption of God, & the salvation of the world, required a complete & holy sacrifice.

The sinless Son of God laid aside his power & glory for a time, and shouldered the sins of each & every man, woman, & child. Jesus gave everything holy & good in order to take-on everything wicked & bad; everything in human history. This is what completeness means for us; complete sacrifice, complete forgiveness.     Look within your own heart & life, and observe all that you have done wrong:  every curse or lie; each drama of /envy, /greed, /hatred, /or lust.  The penalty for such crimes against God’s holy laws-of-life is death & hell.

But Jesus carried them all.   In time, the promise of God played out until he proclaimed, “It is finished” & His cross ended it.   Being completed means you & I have been saved from the guilt & just punishment of our sins. Being completed means that he has assured us of a good & heavenly end to our life-story, thru the forgiveness of our sins.

Being completed means that His resurrection from the dead shows his victory. For all who are baptized & believe in him will not perish, but will share in his victory. Jesus’ complete sacrifice has made our earthly life worth living again; our lives are not just common drama, but are blessed & purposeful.

The completed love of God in Christ Jesus gives us a completed faith; a faith like that widow lady.   Her story is not so much about her thorough giving as it is about her thorough faith == faith that God knew her and loved her with the coming Messiah. God didn’t need her mites, and the Temple could’ve gotten along without her penny. But her giving was the sign of her trust in God to provide for her. A regular thank-offering is God’s way for US to return thanks to Him; it always has been.

*Do you wonder what happened to her? The Holy Scripture of God is complete for us, without error, & gives us all we need to know about our Savior Jesus & eternal life. But it doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know. +We don’t know that much about Joseph, Jesus’ guardian-father; when did he die, & how?   +After Lazarus was raised from the dead, what did he do, & how long did he live again? +What kind of life did blind Bartameus live after Jesus gave him sight? We’d like know, but we don’t know.

So, *how did the story of the widow end? There’s nothing more about her in the New Testament, & no stories in any other history book. *Did she live a long life; did God help her find a rich widower, so she got married & lived happily ever after?   Or in leaving the temple, *did the lady fall on the steps, break a leg, get an infection & die? *Did she live in poverty the rest of her life?   No one knows.   But God knows that being rich or poor doesn’t matter, because True Life doesn’t revolve around money; even though WE can make it that way.

You may have heard a TV preacher go on to extol the virtues of “giving ‘til it hurts”; your amount of giving =[to them]= shows the amount of your faith,…they say. If that’s the case, that widow would’ve been very discouraged. If God is just an accountant, and she gave the smallest offering, she would only receive God’s smallest blessing. So, unless you can give God a bunch of money, he’s not going to pay much attention to you.

Thankfully, that’s not true; and is often quite the opposite. To God, life doesn’t revolve around money; God doesn’t need our money, and he is not impressed by wealth.

Giving a lot to charity does not cover the guilt of sin, // and being poor is no excuse for sinning.   Rich people abuse others because they’re arrogant, //poor people abuse others because they’re angry. The rich are greedy to keep theirs, //& the poor are greedy to get other’s charity. All people focus on money! But both are accountable to God for their sins; and God doesn’t look at our bank account when He deals with us.

Sinners don’t need financial advice, they need repentance & forgiveness. Gold cannot open the gates of heaven for us; what we need is a real person who’s on the inside, who will speak kindly on our behalf, & open the door for us.   Therefore, God provided His one & only Savior for both rich & poor alike, & Jesus gave his all for all.   Thank the Lord that he treats all people the same;   and he doesn’t depend on us to bribe him or buy him off.

Instead, God made a covenant of grace with all humans. He promised to send a money=blind Savior, so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.     That covenant was based on The Son’s ability to pay our penalty for sin. God kept his promise of mercy-for-all.   Anyone who hears this good news, repents of their sin, and trusts in this one Savior, is blessed with a heavenly richness;   far beyond any amount of earthly gold, silver, bronze or copper.

The story of the Widow’s Mite is not that she gave her offering hoping to be blessed by God in return.   The first illustration is that, in her complete giving, she was showing what God has done for us in the coming of Jesus Christ as the one, promised Savior.   The second illustration is that she gave her offering as thanks to God because she believed that He was already blessing her with that promised forgiveness, and the promised heavenly kingdom to come.   Her thanks to God & her trust in him was more important to her than her money.

How did her story end == in hardship or luxury?   *It doesn’t matter, does it? +Look how it pleased the Son of God that his believing child was a good illustration of his own complete sacrifice & his Gospel promise to us. +Look at how she was a good illustration of how God’s people trust Him completely as He is mindful & watching us; and that our lives are always under His care.   +Look at how she reminds us of the complete & rich heavenly life yet to come for all who believe in the Savior Jesus.   +Look & see the wonderful ending our life-story.

Amen