Text: Mark 12:38-44
In the First Commandment, the Lord teaches us that we are to have no other gods besides Him alone. Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, explains the First Commandment in this way: “What does this mean? Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” In this first Commandment, we learn that we should look to God above all other things for help and support in time of need. Ultimately, whatever else we might place in that position will fail us; our money will run out, our friends and family will die or leave, our things will break and rot. But, God will not fail. He Himself has said and promised, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
This is the faith expressed by the lonely poor widow in our text. She did not go into the temple to be seen or put on a show like the scribes and rich people. She came to hear the Lord’s Word, and in response to His love, give to support the work of His Church. She knew the Lord upholds the widow and the fatherless, providing them with food and clothing, and so she freely gave. She trusted in the Lord her God and by the work of the Spirit, trusted in Him above all things. In our text we are encouraged by the might of the poor widow’s faith and we learn that the Lord, who sees what’s in the heart, takes care of His faithful ones.
What prompts our Lord’s teaching this week is that He Himself was teaching in the temple. At this point in St. Mark’s Gospel, we have already passed the Triumphal Entry. Our text this week comes during Holy Week, perhaps the Tuesday. By now, Jesus has cleansed the temple and was teaching in it. The day has already been filled with the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trap Him in His words and the scribes questioning Him. As a great crowd was listening, Jesus said to them, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces…and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus had just finished speaking with the scribes – who often turned out to be enemies of Christ, rather than friends. So He encouraged His faithful followers to not live out their faith like scribes do theirs. In Jesus’ time, the scribes weren’t just people who wrote things down, but they were also experts in Scripture and, often, legal code as well. They liked to have people know this, too. They would wear long, flowing robes. The robes themselves weren’t wrong, they were a symbol of their office, a uniform, even; but, it was the purpose for which they wore them – to be seen and respected. They loved being greeted and being seated in places of honor. But, inside their hearts there was neither love for God nor other people. They greedily ate up what little wealth widows had and, to cover it all up, prayed long and well-spoken prayers.
Jesus went and sat down by the temple treasury. This is where people would give their offerings to God and to support the work of His Church. The way you’d give is by placing your coins in a trumpet-shaped object. When you put the coins in, in made noise. More coins, more noise. People would hear that. You can see where Jesus is going. St. Mark wrote that Jesus watched the way people put in their money and how the rich put in large sums. Then, St. Mark writes, “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” Jesus said that she had given more than all the others, for they had given out of their abundance, but she – in faith – gave all she had to live on.
At first glance, these two things could seem to be unconnected. We have Jesus teaching about not being like the scribes, and then we have this account of the poor widow. But, I think we can see them as connected in this way – they are both applications of the First Commandment. The Commandment itself is to have no other gods. That means we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Let us consider what the scribes trusted in and in whom the widow placed her trust. The scribes trusted in themselves, ultimately. The scribes described by our Lord valued above all their reputation, the greetings and seats of honor. They backed those things up with a false piety. They appeared faithful when in their hearts, they weren’t. The scribes as a whole were associated with the Pharisees, who were famous for their self-righteousness. In contrast, the widow placed her trust in God.
Which of the two do we find ourselves behaving as more often? Since we’ve been talking about the First Commandment – consider, what do I love above all things? Let us each think about our actions and thoughts. If you added everything together, our actions demonstrate what we’re truly devoted to. And, whatever you’re devoted to, as Luther would say, is your God. For the scribes, it was their reputation. For us, it’s likely different. It could be sports. It could be retirement. It could summer recreation. You fill in the blank. But, the widow, she trusted in God.
The widow placed her trust in God and counted on Him to provide for her needs. She trusted in Him, first, for her most important need – the need for forgiveness, life, and salvation. After that, her daily bread as well. She knew that God is not fooled by outward appearances, and that He will punish those who trust only in themselves. Yet, the Lord is also merciful. He is gracious and kind, and He forgives the sins of those who repent. He gives to them eternal life and joy in His presence. Do you think that the scribes were sinful but that the widow was without sin? No, all people are sinful, but the widow knew that by God’s grace her sins were forgiven. And so are ours. This faith – that God forgives us – is what led the widow to give.
She knew that God not only provides for our greatest need, but for the daily care of our bodies as well. She gave freely out of what she had – even all she had – because she knew the Lord would provide her daily bread. She confessed what St. Paul also wrote to Timothy, “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” The widow did fear, love, and trust in God above all things. She gave in faith, and in thanksgiving, knowing that the Lord would always provide.
As we are nearing the final weeks of the Church Year, we also can reflect on how the Lord has provided for us in the last 12 months. He has given us the forgiveness of our sins time and again in His Word and Sacraments. He has placed food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs. Everything else we have from Him is a blessing that may be used in service to our neighbor. Our Gospel lesson today is, in a way, a lesson on the First Commandment. Those who trust, as the scribes did, in themselves above all will receive the greater condemnation. But, let us be encouraged by the might of the widow’s faith, and pray that we – by the same grace of the Holy Spirit, might also fear, love, and trust in God above all things.