Passion Week XIII

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.  And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.  And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”  (Luke 21:1-4 NASB)

The Widow’s Mite!  It’s been used in “Stewardship Sermons” for ages.  In Mark, Jesus goes and intentionally sits and waits for her to give.  In Matthew, this account is missing, as it is in John.  Here in Luke, Jesus looks up.  It’s as if, in the midst of all He is saying and doing, He remembers, “Oh right, the widow!”.  He looks up and points her out.

There are many interesting things about this account, not the least of which is the question of what happened to the widow?  But another is whether anyone else noticed.  The chances were high that she was easy to spot for what she was.  She probably looked the part since she had reached that point only after selling everything else.  Would anyone else have spotted the unaccompanied woman in old worn clothes?

But what sort of person, or what drives a person to the point where putting the last two coins in the treasury is good idea?  How does that happen?  When does that happen?  In a sense we might think she’s given up, reached a point where there is no point, so might as well give the rest.

But think about what she’s done.  She’s given the last of what she had to the One she figured was responsible.  All things come from God, good or bad.  Yet, regardless of her circumstances, she gives to the One having landed her in them.  The God of her fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has taken her husband, left her without children to support her, without land, without legal protection, and without finances.  And to Whom does she give her last two coins?  This God of her fathers.

How easy is it for me to give in to my circumstances, blaming and resenting my Father in Heaven?  How cheaply do I sell my joy and contentment?  For what will I trade the blessings of being a child of the King?  She held on through everything, and gave right to the end of everything she had.  I have much and give out of my abundance, and whine like a mule because my job is boring.  Really?

The thing distracting me is me.  What gets my view off my Savior and on my circumstances is my discomfort, my boredom, my frustration with management from whom I feel disconnected and marginalized.  Ah, poor blessed employed whiner, such a pity he’s being ignored by people he doesn’t know.  Funny how I have such a problem getting people to come over to my pity party.  I probably should have had cake and balloons.

So different from a widow with two coppers.  Maybe if I grew up to be like her my life would be more of a blessing to others.  I can’t imagine her mindset, which is really dangerous.  I should be living it, forget imagining it.  I’m going to force my focus on Jesus.  Today I will practice the presence of my Savior.  Booyah!

What’s your view of our Master through the fence?

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Giving Back What Is Owed

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.  They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  But He detected their trickery and said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.”  And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20-26 NASB)

How would you have liked to have been the “spies” sent to pretend to be righteous by the religious leaders, trying to trap the teacher who embarrassed them?  It’s sort of like the SEALS sending out the regular army after an enemy who defeated them.  Good idea…not so much.  They start out with puffing Jesus up, trying to put Him in a bind so that He couldn’t appear to be preferential to any; “…You teach correctly, and You are not partial…”, that no matter what He teaches the truth of God.  As if He’s really impressed by hearing that.  But it does set up the question well.

The question is about paying taxes.  The question is asked in the Temple courts where offerings are collected and sacrifices are offered.  In a very real sense, the people are “double-taxed” and it’s a big deal to them.  These people make up the audience.  But there are a few problems with the question.  First off, the coin used for Temple transactions is a “drachma” not a “denarius” (see Matthew 17).  This isn’t a big deal, they can be exchanged easily enough right there in the Temple courts (at least until Jesus drove out the money changers), or Jesus can find them in the mouths of fish when needed.  Yet one coin is not used for the other purpose.

The question being asked by one in possession of a denarius is somewhat ironic.  Essentially they are asking whether to give to the occupying government the money they require from that which is used to conduct business.  The drachma isn’t used to conduct business much. Since the temple exchange rate never works in the people’s favor, it’s a losing proposition for merchants to take them in trade.  And if the merchant isn’t a Jew, they’ll have trouble exchanging them at all.  Best for all concerned to use Roman coin.  And so our questioner has a denarius in the Temple courts, something he clearly will not be giving to God.

But Jesus’ answer is that we are to “render” or “give what is owed” to both Caesar and to God.  There is a sense of obligation in the word, whether of debt, reward, or retribution.  The person to whom whatever is given has a right to it.  In other words Jesus is saying that Caesar has a right to receive taxes.  But He also says that God has a right to receive from us.  In fact, the right to receive is similar enough in both cases Jesus mentions them together.  The challenge is whether or not to pay one or the other, and Jesus is insisting on paying both. There is something we owe back to God, something which He has a right to receive.

Jesus doesn’t mention what we owe back to God. It’s either obvious or assumed by some sort of context we’ve lost. I think it’s obvious.  There are plenty of “giving” or “stewardship” teachings available, so I don’t think I need to delve into it here.  But I will say that for those to whom it seems like God is “taxing” us, they’re not far off.  Jesus clearly says that God has a right to what He asks us to return to Him.  To withhold from God is often taken less serious than withholding from the government.  But that’s just “money”.

The fat of rams, the first born, these things are not what God requires, says Micah.  But rather He requires me to do justice, to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly with my Him.  I think most of us would rather just pay Him off, honestly. This other requirement is a lot more invasive, and requires more of me than money.  This Creator, Savior, and King wants my time, my attention, and my intent.  What’s really left for me at that point?  Nothing.  He wants all of me.  And I am to “render to God the things of God”.  I’d much rather hold back and look for the deductions, credits, and adjustments to income.  Instead my Master asks me to forego the balance sheet, and live entirely off the income statement; to own nothing and be entirely His.  What do I do with that, when I’m one of those who would rather be taxed?

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

To Judge And Not To Judge

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned;  pardon, and you will be pardoned.    Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:37,38 NASB)

This is one of those passages that gets thrown around, used as a “defense”, and basically misused a lot.  Because of this there is a responsibility that believers have which we’ve abdicated.  And because we’ve abdicated this responsibility many people never come to repentance.

Continue reading “To Judge And Not To Judge”