Meet the Widow, and Her Simple Pennies

Mark 12:41-44

41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

It wasn’t much but it’s all I had. Some would laugh, most would scorn–but truthfully, I really wasn’t giving my money, I was giving my heart. That’s all, just my little tiny heart.

When my husband died, I was left with very little. What I did have I hid in a hole in the wall, but I was concerned, money was going out and nothing was coming in. Often I sat on my stool and stared at that hole, and often I was pretty frightened. There is nothing to live on. What was I going to do?

Please understand. No one was going to help me.

I got up one morning to pull out the leather sack, all that was there were two pennies. That’s it. Two very small pennies, and that’s all I had to live on! I knew that this day would come, but it seemed to come so soon. I shook with fear at what life was going to bring next.

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Jesus sat watching the crowd in the Temple with the twelve. Occasionally there was a procession: trumpets blowing and bright banners waving. Another rich man announced to everyone that he was coming to contribute to the Temple. There were six stone receptacles placed in strategic spots, where people could tithe as the Law required of every Jew.

Jesus was watching all of this.

Suddenly an old woman came to give, and there were no trumpets, no fanfare. She simply came to give what she had–two very small copper pennies. Just two pennies. Most would laugh I suppose. After all, the rich were dropping in thousands of silver.

It was funny, but Jesus turned to His disciples. They sat and listened carefully to what He had to say:

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”

They gasped as they struggled to understand the Teacher. It seemed idiotic, but Jesus often said many outrageous things. You could see their minds working to grip this. It made absolutely zero sense.

“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 twelve were dumbfounded.

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When I gave, I gave my heart. I had nothing, but you know, a strange peace came over me. I rejoiced to do this, to give to God and His work. Yes, I now had nothing–nothing but the grace and care of God. Maybe I was a fool. Maybe I was stark raving mad. But I knew what I wanted to do. When I threw in my two pennies, I threw myself into the heart and care of God.

What was going to happen next? I really don’t know, but we will find out, won’t we?

“Don’t be afraid, you tiny flock! Your Father plans to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give the money away. Get yourselves purses that never grow old, inexhaustible treasure in Heaven, where no thief can ever reach it, or moth ruin it. For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!”

Luke 12:33, Phillips

Art: Coin Week; verses used are from The Message, a translation of Eugene Peterson

Meet the Older Brother

Luke 15:25-32

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I hated him. I know I shouldn’t but I did. He betrayed all of us by his nonsense. It all started when he demanded that our father immediately divide up our inheritance. Strange I know. It was a shock, like a punch in the stomach. No one knew what to say, it was so bizarre. I have no idea where this idea came from.

He insisted that we divide things up right this instant. He didn’t have the decency to wait for our father’s funeral. It was such a shameful thing that I couldn’t begin to tell you how mortified I was. No one ever heard of anything happening like this before. Even now, after these many years, I can hardly talk about it.

My father simply did what was asked, there was no argument, no resistance.

The property was appraised, and the money was divided up according to custom. We sat at the kitchen table, and the ass watched to make sure that he received every penny that was coming to him. His hungry greed was beyond belief. He oozed arrogance–it was then I really began to hate him.

Never ever had I been so angry and ashamed.

My younger brother never even batted an eye and my father simply did what was asked. My brother didn’t even have the decency to say “thank you.” I desperately wanted to leave, and I couldn’t. I had to be there, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

Enough of that. Let’s move on.

That ass, my younger brother packed up and left. Occasionally I heard of his escapades. There were awful reports of his drunkenness and whoring. He was spending our father’s money as if it would never going to run out. Even talking about it now makes me angry.

The last I had heard was he was now feeding pigs. He had spent every last dime and now it seems he was getting what he deserved. I didn’t shed a tear, I felt no pity. Good, he was getting what he should of gotten all along. I only wished that things would get even worse.

Coming in from the fields I heard a raucous party coming from the house.

I asked one of the servants what was going on. When they told me I was even more shocked. Our father had arranged a celebration, all because my brother had returned. The fatted calf had been killed, the one that was saved for parties, and I heard shouts of joy and dancing. They were celebrating, and that made no sense to me at all.

I had served the estate faithfully, I had sweated to make things work, and I never got a party like this.

My father came out to find me, I had hid out in a shed–I didn’t want to be a part of this awful charade. When he found me he said that the party had to happen. It seems the scoundrel had the audacity to return–the money was spent, and apparently, he came home in rags–it served him right. He got what he deserved.

He told me about the necessity of this celebration.

My mind reeled. Could things get even crazier? Never had I heard of anything so bizarre. It was beyond belief. My father wanted me to come in and join them; I’d rather die. You have no idea.

He kept telling me that this had to happen–apparently he was given a new robe, and worst of all he was given the family ring, the ring that declared that he was now a full-fledged son, someone who could have all of the privilege and authority of a son. I had never heard of such foolishness.

My father said this was necessary, that my brother who I hoped was dead, was now alive.

How bad could things get? Perhaps my father had lost his mind.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

Painting: “The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, c. 1667, oil on canvas. This picture shown is a small part. Scripture is The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

Meet the Rich Young Ruler

Mark 10:17-22

As he was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good! 19 But as for your question—you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”

21 Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him; “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor—and you shall have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.”

22 Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.

My name is inconsequential. I suppose all you must know of me is I tried to keep God’s Law and that I was very wealthy. Many believed that being rich was evidence that God approved of me. Of that, I wasn’t too sure. I kept the Law out of fear I suppose, and at times I just knew it wasn’t quite enough.

As I studied I began to realize that riches weren’t going to make me righteous. There was enough Scripture in me to let me know that it wasn’t enough. The prophets, especially Isaiah spoke about the deadliness of wealth, but there was that one verse in Proverbs that really disturbed me:

“Your riches won’t help you on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”

This verse and all of the others were the cause of many a sleepless night.

I was tormented by the reality of standing before God with nothing but my money to cover me. Perhaps I was just being overly concerned. Coming under God’s righteous judgment haunted me. I thought of it day and night. I was terrified of being damned. My righteousness wasn’t enough, and I knew it.

I heard about Jesus (and who hasn’t)–some were claiming that he was the Messiah. He was at least a wonderful teacher and many said he worked miracles. Just perhaps he had answers for me. I hoped so, but I needed to know. It was my questions that drove me to find him.

And finding him was easy–I just followed the crowd.

I went ahead of his retinue of followers. I knelt in his path and waited. I must know what he thought. When he stood before me I asked the question that had haunted me my whole life–“Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Being a good Jew he answered my question with a question. It now seems that he wanted me to see what really mattered. I answered him with my “righteous” commitment to the Law of Moses. I did what was important–at least that’s what I thought. But still, in spite of all that, I felt no security and no real peace.

Jesus looked right at me. I knew deep down that he loved me.

But oh those words, his words really disturbed me. He told me that I only lacked one thing, that I must sell everything and distribute the money to the poor. Only by doing that would discover riches in heaven. And only then could I truly follow him.

And that was the thing I couldn’t do.

I went away grieved. If he had asked for anything else I would have done it. You see, my wealth was my real obstacle. Deep down I suddenly knew that everything I possessed was now my stumbling block. It was my idol, my golden calf, and it was a sacrifice that I could never make.

I’ve come to realize now, over my many years, that when I do finally stand before God, I will have nothing to save me. Jesus invited me to follow, and I didn’t.

And that my friend meant I would die in my sin.