When I was preparing this message, I found a story about a little boy who went to church one Sunday morning to get out of the cold. He had been trying to sell newspapers, but no one had passed by. He entered the church, hoping to pass an hour unnoticed in the back row. The minister delivered a powerful sermon about Jesus and his love for us. At one point during the service, they took an offering.
One of the ushers stopped right in front of the boy and held out the offering plate. After a long pause, the boy asked the usher to put the plate on the floor. Then the little boy did something unusual. He stepped into the offering plate, first one foot and then the other. He slowly looked up and with tears streaming down his cheeks said, “Mister, I don’t have any money. I haven’t sold a single newspaper today, but if Jesus did all that the minister said he did just for me, I will gladly give my life to Him”.
The story of Ruth and Naomi and the Parable of the Widow’s Mite provide some very interesting contrasts between the Christian’s way and society’s way. Both are stories of how God uses the culture of Jesus’ time to do his will in our society and teach us how we are supposed to care for each other.
In Old Testament times, the Law of Moses stated that the poor, orphans and widows were to be cared for, but in most cases the care that was provided was the bare minimum that was required. For example, farmers who grew grain were to leave the grain in the rows at the edges of their fields for the widows and orphans, but that was it. The farmers did not have to take the grain to the widows, nor did they have to bring the poor to their fields so they could pick the grain.
That was what Ruth and Naomi were doing in the field. They were picking the grain that was left for widows such as Naomi. Now Naomi had a big problem. Not only was she a widow, but both of her sons were dead, so it was just Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth. Naomi was planning to go back to her homeland, and Ruth was going to go with her, so Naomi decided to play matchmaker by encouraging Ruth to “introduce” herself to her distant relative Boaz, who happened to own the field that they were working in. Ruth followed Naomi’s advice, and the result was that she and Boaz married and became the parents of Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David…and from that lineage of David came Jesus. God took a bad situation for Naomi and used it to fulfill his purpose.
Jesus later used another widow to fulfill his purpose-namely, to teach us the value of giving to God’s work. The Parable of the Widow’s Mite took place in Jerusalem during the week before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus taught his disciples to beware of those who act pious and holy on the outside but who are evil and corrupt on the inside. He used the example of the scribes. They wore long flowing robes and enjoyed the privileges of their position. They enjoyed the adoration they received from the ordinary people in the street, and they had the best seats in the synagogues. They also used crooked schemes to force widows out of their own homes.
Even today, those in power sometimes lose compassion and take advantage of others, including widows, orphans and the poor. They do not have a heart to love and serve God. In fact, they often stand between us and God. In contrast, both widows revealed faith in a caring God. He will not overlook them, and he does not overlook us. The widows encourage us to hold on to our faith in a God who will not disappoint us.
Jesus always championed social justice, which means caring for the less fortunate in society. He and the disciples were sitting in the area of the temple treasury. The treasury contained thirteen trumpet-shaped chests where people could deposit their gifts and the temple tax. Jesus could see how much money people gave. He could see the large sums of money that the scribes and the wealthy gave, and he could also see how much the widow gave. He used a comparison of the gifts to illustrate their significance.
The wealthy gave out of their abundance. That is, they gave out of what they had left after they paid their bills and purchased the necessities of life, including food. In contrast, the poor widow gave all that she had. By putting all of her money into the temple treasury, the widow probably had to go without food for at least one meal. In Jesus’ eyes, she gave more than all the rich people simply because she gave everything to God.
Many large donations are given at least in part because of the public relations value. Jesus doesn’t condemn large gifts from wealthy people, but he does say that the effect of the widow’s small donation is even bigger than any large donation because she gave out of what she had. She put God first and she is a good example for us to follow. We must always put God first.
God gives us resources to use, including money. In return, we have to manage these resources in God’s best interests-including caring for the poor. Let me give an example from my own life. I am the secretary-treasurer for the local food bank. My duties include receiving cash donations from people and recording them. I can’t get into specifics because of confidentiality, but I can tell you that the donations I see are a good example of the Parable of the Widow’s Mite. Some people give more than others, which is understandable given different income levels, but I can tell you that there are cases where the donations come from people who do indeed give most if not all of what they have. In addition, my mother and I made separate donations to the food bank each month. These were sacrifices for us because of her fixed income as a senior citizen and my low income from part-time work at the time, but like the widow, we gave out of all that we have.
Love and giving describe our lifestyles and what we were made for. Life is meant to be lived outward to the world, not inward to ourselves. God has hardwired us for generosity. When we live generously, it shows in our faces and in our lives. People in the health care profession are a good example. They show genuine care and compassion for their patients. They are not in the profession just for show. They are in the profession because they care.
God measures giving not by what we give, but by what we keep for ourselves. He measures the gift by the sacrifice involved. That is why Jesus valued the widow’s gift. She sacrificed her well-being in order to show her love for God-just like Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross to save us. Ruth also sacrificed her own plans for her life to stay with her mother-in-law, and God rewarded her by making her the great-grandmother of King David. If Ruth, the widow, and Jesus can make sacrifices for others, surely we can make sacrifices for others.
- Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
- Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
- The Rev. Francis Wade, “Against Giving”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Exegesis for Mark 12:38-44. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- McKenna, D.L and Ogilvie, L.J., The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 32nd Sunday (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Steve Preston, “Great Riches”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, “The Lavish Gifts of the Poor”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Micah D. Kiel, “Mark 12:38-44, Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B”. Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=1418
- Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “The Widow’s Might”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- “Giving our All”. Retrieved from http://sermons4kids.com/giving_our_all_print.htm