Last Sunday’s Sermon

November 11, 2018 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gave All He Had

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Our text is from the Gospel reading.  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.”  Here ends our text.

Things aren’t always as they appear.  You sit down on a bench at the mall or the airport, and you watch all the people pass by.  You’re people watching.  Some are nicely dressed, a business man in a tie.  Some seem well to do, a woman wearing the latest fashions.  Others are more modestly dressed, slacks and polo shirts and hair well groomed, while others look rather sloppy in holey jeans and T-shirts.  Some have dyed hair, body piercings and tattoos.  You make some judgments about their appearance.  But what’s really underneath the exterior?  What’s going on inside their minds?  You drive down the street and run your errands.  You see people in your community.  They work in an office at your bank.  They scan your food at the check out line.  They change the oil in your car.  Most are polite and accommodating.  But just what are they really like underneath?  What are they thinking behind their smile and thank you?  You walk into church and see the same variety of people.  Some are overtly friendly; others are shy.  Some hold leadership positions and attend every church function; others you only see at the Sunday service.  Some volunteer at the food pantry; others prefer to work in their garden.  But just what motivates them to do what they do?  What’s really in their heart?  No one knows that a blue collar worker quietly gives 20% of his paycheck in the offering plate while a famous TV evangelist skims large contributions into his own personal account.  One woman reads the Bible to her kids in the privacy of her home.  Another man, a well known coach, runs a charity for children but then preys on them as a pedophile.  You just can’t judge a book by its cover.  Things aren’t always as they appear.  We can’t see into a person’s heart, but the Lord can.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

In our text today, Jesus has been preaching in the Temple courts.  It’s Holy week, just a few days before his death.  Jesus gives a warning about judging by outward appearances.  He says, “Beware of the scribes.”  Now what possible conspiracy can the scribes be up to?  Weren’t they just servants of the Church?  They tediously recopied the Scriptures.  They always dressed appropriately in their robes.  They were friendly and greeted people in the market place.  They were always at worship in the synagogue and every feast and festival of the Jewish people.  They appeared devout and were often seen praying.  Their outward appearance and actions looked impeccable.  But things aren’t always as they appear.  The Scribes not only recopied the Scriptures but many other documents which contained Jewish interpretations of the Law.  They passed on oral traditions and laws which weren’t written down anywhere.  As the keepers of the Law, they controlled the Law.  People often called upon them for their opinions which were followed as Law.  They were asked to give recommendations which were carried out as Law.  The scribes were actually legislators, lawyers, and judges all in one.  They were paid as servants of the Church, but they held positions of great power.  And they loved their positions of power more than God.  They loved their long flowing robes which identified their status in the Church and society.  They loved it when others respectfully greeted them in the market place.  They loved having the best seats in the synagogue and the places of honor at feasts.  They made a pretense of making long prayers in public, but secretly, they used their positions of power to devour widows’ houses.  And then they made a pious show of their contributions to the Church, contributions that came from deceitful practices and the offerings of widows.  These scribes were really hypocrites.  It was a conspiracy of the heart.  And Jesus saw into their hearts and said, “Beware.”  Things aren’t always as they appear.

Jesus then sat down on the steps opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.  He was people watching.  The offering box was really a horn-shaped receptacle in the wall of the Temple.  There were thirteen such receptacles in the Temple.  An offering plate wasn’t passed from person to person during the worship service.  Rather people would pass by the offering box on their way into the Temple and deposit their money like you’d toss change into the receptacle of a toll both.  Jesus watched the people of all sorts, ages and genders and occupations.  Many rich people put in large sums of money.  You couldn’t tell the exact amount, but because the currency wasn’t paper but coinage, the size of the offering would reverberate loudly as large coins bounced down the horn.  A poor widow also come and placed two small copper coins into the offering.  No one could hear the tinkle of change and so no one noticed the poor widow and her offering.  But Jesus did.  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.”

There were two things that Jesus noticed about the widow.  First he noticed her offering.  The widow had put in two small copper coins.  A very small amount compared to what others put in.  But Jesus knew that this widow gave all she had.  Maybe the rich had given the normal tithe of 10 percent.  But she had given 100 percent.  In terms of proportional giving, she had given more than all the rest.  And she didn’t have to.  She could have given one of the two coins and kept one for herself.  50 percent would still have been more than all the rest.  And yet giving one coin wasn’t necessary for her to give either.  What pastor wouldn’t have looked with compassion upon this poor widow and said, “Nay, woman.  Because of your poverty, you don’t need to give at all.  Keep it for yourself and your needs.”  Why didn’t Jesus rush up to her and say, “You’re not obligated to give.  I know that’s all you have.  God is no merciless rent collector.  You’re exempt from giving until he blesses you with more.”?  Instead, Jesus let her give all she had.  Why?  Because Jesus saw something else in the widow that no one else could.  He saw her faith, true and genuine, and he wouldn’t prevent her act of faith.  The widow’s offering amounted to about 1/64 of a days wage for a common laborer.  At today’s minimum wage, this would have amounted to about a dollar.  What can you get for a dollar today?  Maybe a three day old loaf of bread.  Maybe a can of soup.  Maybe enough food for one day.  Maybe one’s daily bread.  The widow could have kept the money and known for certain that she would have had food for the morrow.  Instead she gave all she had and trusted that God would somehow provide for the morrow.  Others had given in certainty, knowing that their own stores and surpluses would provide.  She had give in uncertainty, trusting that God would provide her daily bread.

Things aren’t always as they appear.  A scribe looks pious and devout.  He’s admired for his church work and service in the community.  In his fine clothes he looks blessed by the Lord.  He contributes great wealth to the Temple offering.  And yet his heart is proud and deceitful.  He does these things for self glorification.  He’s a hypocrite with no faith.  In contrast, the poor widow looks forsaken by God, without husband or wealth or daily food.   And yet, though she goes unnoticed, her offering and her faith in God are greater than all the rest.  The Lord provides her daily bread.  She is blessed by God.  Things aren’t always as they appear.

When people look at you, what do they see?  How do you appear to them?  An upright church member, a hard working employee, a loyal husband or wife, a friendly neighbor?  But what are you like under the surface?  What are you really thinking when you attend worship?  How do you act within the private walls of your home?  What questionable methods do you practice at work?  What motivates you to do what you do?  God also is a people watcher.  He sees what’s in your heart.  How do you appear to him?

A few days after this episode in the Temple, on Good Friday, we see two high priests in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin.  But there can’t be two high priests.  Which one is true and which one is the imposter?  One high priest is named Joseph Caiaphas.  He wears the garments of the high priest.  He sits in the high priest’s chair.  He has the admiration of all the people and even the respect of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  With apparently the people’s best interest at heart, Caiaphas has prophesied that it was better for one man, Jesus, to die for the people, rather than the whole nation perish.  He tears his robes in dismay when the other man before him blasphemes and claims to be the Son of God.  Caiaphas looks like the high priest.  But things aren’t always as they appear.  Caiaphas was only acting out of self preservation.  He sent emissaries to trap Jesus in his words.  He had Jesus arrested without cause and illegally tried by night.  He put false witnesses on the stand to accuse Jesus.  He wrongly charged Jesus with blasphemy and then hauled him to Pilate and changed the charges to treason.  Caiaphas acted to protect his own power and position, but he cared nothing for his people.  It was a conspiracy of the heart.

The other man, though, wore no priestly garments nor sat in a chair of authority.  He was poor and homeless.  He was arrested, tried, and condemned.  He was bound, mocked, and flogged.  He was stripped, humiliated, and crucified.  He died like a criminal.  But things aren’t always as they appear.  This man Jesus Christ was the very Son of God.  He sacrificed himself for the sins of the world.  He interceded between God and sinful people.  With his blood he made atonement for our sins.  Jesus showed his great love for us by giving all he had.  He out of his poverty put in everything he had, all he had to live on.  He gave 100%.  He gave his very life.  And so Jesus was the true high priest, the true mediator between God and man.  Things aren’t always as they appear.

And though we are sinners, who were steeped in sin at birth, under the wrath of God, and subject to his judgment, things aren’t always as they appear.  By the blood of Jesus, we’re washed clean of sin and now appear holy in God’s sight.  But it’s not just a cosmetic, external change.  By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word, God has changed our hearts and minds.  As believing Christians, our thoughts and words and actions reflect our heart within.  We worship at church and give our offerings, not because we know others are watching, or even that Jesus is watching, but because we have faith in him.  We trust God to continue to provide our daily bread and forgive our sins.  We smile, act politely, and serve our fellow man, not because we love the praise of men, but because we love our neighbor.  We serve at church, not so we can earn heaven, but out of thanksgiving and gratitude that God has given heaven to us.  By faith in Jesus Christ, who gave all he had for us, we are the saints who we appear to be.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.