The Giving God Notices (and wants)

November 16, 2013

Today, I want to address another obstacle we face that keeps us from giving to God. In Luke 21, we read,

Jesus  looked up and saw

the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.

Luke 21.1

So Jesus is hanging outside the Temple on one of the last days of his life, and here’s how he’s spending his time:  watching what people are giving in their worship offering. Really? Really. First thing he sees, some rich people making their offering. Luke goes on,

And he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins.

Luke 21.2

There is this big discrepancy between the rich who gave great amounts of wealth and then the poor widow.  If a woman’s husband died and she had no children she would probably be impoverished. She gave very little, because she had nearly nothing.  So, Luke immediately sets up this huge disparity.

In Luke’s Gospel, we often see people in completely opposite situations, one from another, and then there’s a reversal about everything we would assume or think true, the whole scenario gets flipped on its head. And here it happens again. We think obviously the wealthy people have given more to God than this poor widow.  But that’s not what Jesus says. 

“Truly I say to you,

this poor widow has put in more than all of them;

for they contributed out of their abundance,

but she out of her poverty, put in all she had.”

Luke 21.4

Evidently in the divine economy, in God’s accounting system the poor widow’s offering counts for more, far more, than the offering from the rich people. They gave, but their gift didn’t cost them anything. The widow’s gift cost her everything. She was giving at a larger percentage.

Next the story switches back again from the poor widow to wealth, but now the focus is on great wealth, the realm of the super rich. Luke writes,

And as some spoke of the Temple,

how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings he said,

“As for these things which you see, the days will come

when there shall not be left one stone upon another

that will not be thrown down.”

Luke 21.5-6

The original Temple built by Solomon had been destroyed about 500 years before, later it was rebuilt in a modest way.  However, in Jesus’ time the place was undergoing a massive renovation and expansion under the direction of the fabulously wealthy King, Herod the Great and his son, Herod Antipas. The full magnificence of the Temple as elaborated and adorned by the kings has only recently come to light through archaeological investigation. It would have been among the most important buildings in the world. Yet, elaborate as it was, Jesus rightly predicted, to the shock of his listeners, that it wasn’t going to last, it was all coming down. And it did. In 70 AD, the Romans pretty much incinerated the Temple, they reduced it to ash and dust as a punishment for Jewish insurrection.

So Jesus commended the poor widow for giving to this Temple, even though it was richly endowed by the king and he knew it was all coming down anyway. How do we reconcile those two things?

Didn’t the poor widow need her money more than the Temple? Shouldn’t Jesus have told her to keep her money? There seems a natural tension that Jesus praises this poor widow while at the same time acknowledging this precious building is coming down.

The giving Jesus is commending isn’t about needs, and meeting needs. It’s about worship. A worship offering isn’t giving to a need, its giving to God.

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