Mark 12:38-44 (NIV) page 693 in the pew Bible.
38 As He taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
‘Humility’, ‘service’ and ‘sacrifice’ are three words which are not used much anymore. ‘Humility’ is a term which has been relegated to the weak and vulnerable. Our society values pride more than ‘humility’.
For example: if you apply for a job, you are expected to sell yourself and to tell the prospective employer why you are the best person for the job – why you are better than the other people applying.
‘Service’ has been relegated to that which you pay for or which one is paid to provide. The more you pay, the better the service you receive and the more you are paid the better the service you are expected to provide.
‘Sacrifice’ is now a term generally regarded as something those who joined up in the first and second world wars but who never returned home – only to be buried in a mass or unmarked grave in some foreign field.
In today’s text Jesus talks about ‘humility’, ‘service’ and ‘sacrifice’. He addresses us with the example of the opposite of humility where the scribes, the teachers of the Law, made no pretence to humility.
Thy flounced around in affluence and flamboyancy expecting to be acknowledged as men worthy of respect and honour. Because of their role in teaching and the legal system the Scribes often took advantage and feathered their own nests and egos to the point where they would defraud the vulnerable and big-note themselves.
The disciples, like the scribes could easily be tempted to seek the honour and glory of public acknowledgement and acclaim – being greeted and feted as men worthy of honour and then seeking the most prominent positions at public functions, especially in the synagogue and banquets.
Even today we Christians, especially those of us who have been called or elected to serve in positions of responsibility, can easily let the roles and authority vested in us go to our heads so that like the scribes we expect and glory in the honour we have solicited and which some may be prepared to give us.
This is accentuated when we seek to show off our spiritual knowledge and authority, putting on airs and graces to manipulate for our own personal material or social advantage.
This manipulation may take the form of displays of extreme pity with long and impressive prayer, preaching and teaching which “shows off” the knowledge and gifts which are given by God but which are not acknowledged as having come from God – gifted by His Holy Spirit.
Jesus contrasts the piety and flashiness of those who seek their own glory with the widow, who, having only two of the smallest copper coins to her name quietly puts both of them (she could have kept one of them), but instead puts them in the offering jars in the women’s court of the Temple.
Jesu had pointed out that her service to God with the gift of her minute wealth, all she had to her name, was a true sacrificial gift which far outweighed what those who could afford to be generous, gave.
This woman does what the rich young ruler who had approached Jesus in Mark chapter 10 verses 17-22 could not do. The widow gave up everything while he could not trust God that much. He relied on his outward keeping of the commandments while she gave everything to God and trusted His provision for her future life and welfare.
Roy O. Jones, author of Top Sacred: Spiritual Ideas in Down to Earth Language, wrote that:
“Money talks, we have been told since childhood. Listen to this dollar speak: “You hold me in your hand and call me yours. Yet may I not as well call you mine. See how easily I rule you? To gain me, you would all but die. I am invaluable as rain, essential as water. Without me, men and institutions would die. Yet I do not hold the power of life for them; I am futile without the stamp of your desire. I go nowhere unless you send me. I keep strange company. For me, men mock, love, and scorn character. Yet, I am appointed to the service of saints, to give education to the growing mind and food to the starving bodies of the poor. My power is terrific. Handle me carefully and wisely, lest you become my servant, rather than I yours.”
Money is a gift from God given in trust to us to use in a God pleasing way. How we use money gives some indication of who or what our god is.
It’s been said that “the more we have the more we want”, whether that be money, fame or recognition. To achieve these three we may easily give up humility (preening and promoting ourselves).
We may easily give up service (unless it is us being served). And we may easily give up sacrifice (expecting only to receive). Jesus teaches us what is truly valuable – a relationship with God (through Jesus), faith (trust in Jesus), hope (in Christ) and love (genuine agape – sacrificing for the sake of others) especially for those who are vulnerable.
Jesus calls us to follow Him in humility, service and sacrifice. St Paul puts it like this: Philippians 2:1–8 (NIV)
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
7 rather, He made Himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
As Christians we have been particularly blessed – this blessing is not to pad out our personal egos, wallets or fame but to uplift and encourage the body of Christ. As Luther put it:
“In spiritual gifts we far surpass others; but because we acknowledge these as gifts of God, not our own, granted to us for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12), we do not become proud on their account. For we know that more is required of him (or her) to whom much is given than of him (or her) to whom little is given (Luke 12:48). In addition, we know that ‘God shows no partiality’ (Rom. 2:11). Therefore a faithful sexton (a person who looks after church property) is no less pleasing to God with his (or her) gift than is a preacher of the Word, for he (or she) serves God in the same faith and spirit. And so we should not honour the lowest Christians any less than they honour us. In this way we remain free of the poison of vainglory (boastfulness and vanity) and walk by the Spirit” (AE 27:103).
In verses 38 to 40 of today’s text Jesus warns us against misusing our piety and practice of religion to lift ourselves up above others socially, financially or power-wise. Clergy and others in church leadership roles in congregation and national church especially need to hear what Jesus is saying in this text.
Jesus shows all who claim superiority because of their faith that our model of leadership is humility, service and sacrifice. In Jesus we see this model of leadership.
It is by means of humility – coming from Heaven and being born in human flesh, by means of His service – washing His disciples feet and serving us with His life, and by His sacrifice giving His life to pay for our debt of sin and rebellion against God.
It is worth our considering and praying the Offertory from Psalm 16 - the prayer prayed as the offering is presented to God in The Service Without Communion:
What can I offer to the Lord
For all His goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
And call on the name of the Lord.
I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving:
And call on the name of the Lord.
I will keep my promises to the Lord
In the presence of all His people;
In the courts of the House of the Lord
In your midst O Jerusalem.
Lord, grant us humble hearts and willing Spirits to fulfill our callings faithfully. Amen.