November 11, 2012
Text: Mark 12:38-44
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
With limited income, you may have to face some tough choices when it comes to financial decisions. “Do I buy a new car for myself or build a new porch for the family? Do I buy a large single house far away from my work and church, or a small townhouse that is nearer?” The reason you choose one thing over another and pay a certain price to purchase it is that you love it, don’t you? You sacrifice other things and take some pain to get it. And when you have bought what you want, you value it dearly, won’t you? You consider it as some kind of treasure, right? When it comes to offerings in the church, you may have to make painful decisions as well. “Do I keep that long-planned vacation, or cut it in order to increase the pledge of support for the Mission of the church?” It’s tough, isn’t it? The decision you make to choose one over another may reveal where your heart is, what you love, and what your treasure is.
In today’s Gospel reading, the poor widow faces a very painful choice. Do you know how painful it is? Well, if you ever experience poverty, you may have some better idea. I know a little bit. China has changed a lot, especially Beijing, Shanghai, and those big cities. But I still remember the time when I was a little child. Our family had only corn bread and wild herb to eat, nothing else. If you think my experience is too remote, let me give you an American example. Have you ever heard a Poverty Simulation? I never personally go to one. I heard it over the radio. These are half-day workshops, often sponsored by local charities, to help people get a better sense of what daily life is like for the poor. Participants are not poor, but they pretend to be. The first rule of Poverty Simulation is to remember to pay your bills. Also remember to eat, and to get to school or work on time. The most important thing is to remember that the Poverty Simulation is not a game. James Locurto is the deputy director of a local food stamps and welfare department. You would have assumed Locurto already knew enough about poverty. But he says, “I don’t have any real sense of what the vast majority of people living in poverty actually experience.” So, today he will become Jack Jolly, who is 25 years old and recently released from jail. He works in a cafeteria and makes about $500 a month after taxes and child support. He lives in a trailer with his girlfriend Joyce and her baby. Over the course of the next pretend month, his mission is to go to pretend work, get pretend paid, and find a way to pretend ends meet for his family. After the first pretend week of struggling with shopping, driving to work, paying utilities and cashing a check without a bank account, which costs him extra 10%, he starts to feel what it looks to be underwater. Entering the second week, he gets an unlucky situation: a collection agency was on his case. “I got a visit from a tow truck company over the weekend demanding $100 payment or they’re going to repossess the vehicle, which I need to get to work,” he explains. He can’t get the money without his car, but he can’t keep his car without money. However, he has an idea. His pretend girlfriend, Joyce, receives some cash assistance every month from a government welfare program, through her Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Jack asks her if he can borrow it, to take out some money for his car payment. His girlfriend agrees, and hands him her EBT card. When he is about to take his girlfriend’s EBT card, someone reminds him. “Are you allowed to do that? Borrow someone else’s EBT card?” He stops, and looks embarrassed. “I don’t believe you are,” he says, realizing he was about to accidentally commit welfare fraud. He should know this, since, in real life he’s the guy who enforces the welfare rules for the county… When you are poor, there is a totally different set of painful choices that you have to face. This poor widow in our Gospel reading is facing a hard choice of keeping her food money or giving out of her poverty everything she had, all she had to live on. She chooses to give and trust in God. Where does the next meal come from? Where is her shelter against the wintry piercing wind? Where is the doctor when she gets sick? It’s a dying pain. True giving is painful and sacrificial. If there is no pain and sacrifice; it may still be a giving, but it’s not the offering that Jesus praises here. And this is exactly the difference between the widow’s two small coin contribution and those of Pharisees and the others’ to the offering box. “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.”
Now, do you understand the decision that she makes? Do you feel her pain? If you do, ask yourself this question, “Do you give sacrificially as the poor widow did? Do you trust and love God above all things?” The answer would be “no” if you are honest before God. Let’s face it. All of us including myself fall short of the first Commandment. People tend to feel uneasy, maybe even agitated about this text or similar texts, and ask this question, “Does Jesus really mean we should give 100%?” … The answer is ‘yes’. I don’t know how you can get around it. This is what the widow did and this is what the Bible means by saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God requires 100% “all in”. “Then, nobody can do that!” You may say. Yes, you are right. But the reason that Jesus gives us this example, firstly, is to show a true giving is sacrificial and should be out of trust in God; secondly, and most importantly, is to show that even we, who think highly of ourselves as a Christian, are still sinners who live by grace, by the mercy of God and His forgiveness. The comfort and peace is NOT in this text, but in its context. Now Jesus is already in Jerusalem temple. Within a few days, He will be crucified. Thanks be to God, while we fail to love Him, God still loves us; before we regard Him as our treasure, God sees us as His priceless treasure. We do not give 100%. But God give us 100% of Himself in Jesus Christ. God loved you so much that he sent His only begotten Son to die for you. Jesus took the pain to purchase whom He loved and treasured the most as Dr. Luther says “not with gold and silver but with His precious blood.” It’s you. You are His love and His treasure. Being the Son of God, Jesus has all the prerogatives of heaven, but for us and for our salvation, He emptied Himself to become man. Eternal God confined Himself in time and space to be born in manger and to walk in the land of Palestine. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He made the toughest choice for you. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed and faced the most painful choice between passing the cup of wrath from Him and going to the cross. In order to purchase you and all the people of this world, He chose to obey the will of the Father and go to the cross. This is Jesus’ sacrificial offering for you. Because Jesus’ sacrifice was the once for all perfect sacrifice for sins, which was vindicated by His resurrection as today’s Epistle says, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Why did He make such a sacrifice? Because He loves you as Himself and considers you as His priceless treasure, like a pearl, actually more than a pearl, using biblical term “the apple of His eyes.” Because of the painful choice Jesus made, your sins are forgiven. Yes, all sins are forgiven including sins of your not giving sacrificially. The Gospel that Jesus sacrificed for sinners is your comfort, peace and joy.
So, next time when you face a difficult choice of deciding which iPhone or iPad you should buy, or which cloth you should wear, or where you should have your vacation; remember the difficult choice that the poor widow has to face. Next time when you feel the pain of sacrifices that you make to support God’s work in the church, remember the Sacrifice that Jesus has made for you on the cross. Next time when you think how much you treasure God, think again how much God treasures you as “His dear son or daughter” so dear that His only begotten Son died and resurrected to purchase you. True giving is painful and sacrificial, but the painful sacrifice of Jesus Christ brings you forgiveness, peace and eternal life.
In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.