Money is a funny thing.
Most of the time, we blindly accept that money is the key that opens nearly every door.
I mean, what tangible, physical good can’t be bought for the right price?
Yes, we have all seen the photo of a man pushing a wheelbarrow overflowing with a thousand loose dollar bills during the first days after our country’s great depression.
We know his story: he’s searching in vain for a loaf of bread to take home to his children; but because of super-inflation all these dollars won’t buy a slice of bread!
So we know the dollar’s value rises and falls compared to other world currencies and for many complicated reasons,
But ordinarily, not experiencing such cataclysmic events, we all play along with our society’s contrived system of value fairly easily…
And some people play along especially convincingly!
Don’t some people spend their whole lives pursuing money with passion? Don’t others fear losing money above anything else? Aren’t we told (and don’t we sometimes believe) a person’s salary is an indication of that person’s real worth?
We know the intrinsic value of money is an illusion, but the thing is, if everyone plays along, it works.
Jesus certainly plays along, never shying away from talking about money, or using money as an illustration in his teaching.
And in fact, Jesus talks more about money in the gospels than anything else besides the Kingdom of God… and no wonder; it’s an integral part of our everyday lives.
We use money to influence the world around us and create the world, as we would like it to be.
One day, Jesus is walking through the streets of Jerusalem, and as he arrives at the Temple, he finds himself in the thick of a crowd.
He stops and sits down across from the treasury of the temple, where people brought their offerings and tithes, and watches people as they put money into the treasury.
From where we sit with him, we can see a line of limousines, and as each car door opens the fabulous socialites and wealthy tastemakers put their feet down on the red carpet.
Each one is interviewed by TMZ about which designers they’re wearing tonight. As the flashbulbs fire, they’re caught putting extravagant, large gifts into the treasury as the crowd views the spectacle with awe.
These wealthy scribes, the educated elite, are a part of the high priestly families around Jerusalem and have given into the temptation of wealth and the temptation of power and influence in the name of God.
All eyes are on these well-known figures of the community.
But Jesus points out an older woman everyone else has failed to notice.
“See that woman?” Jesus asks.
“That poor woman?” His disciples are puzzled. “The one without a husband or family, who has no rights and isn’t even allowed an inheritance from her deceased husband to live on? The one who lives in fear of tomorrow’s hunger and on welfare – who relies on handouts from society or extended family? The woman everyone else is doing their best to ignore? Okay. Yes?”
“Well,” Jesus says, “She has put in only two thin coins, together worth just a penny, but she has given more than all the others combined because she has given all she had to live on.”
Jesus’ statement is factually correct. In regards to a percentage of their wealth, this woman has given more than everyone else, but Jesus’ real point is that this woman has given more in regard to HOW she gives her gift.
Like Ted Turner who gave a billion dollars to the United Nations and famously said it didn’t cost him anything (because it came from excess money earned by his investments in the first nine months of the year), the Scribes give out of their tremendous abundance.
This widow, on the other hand, has given with true humility, devotion, and love.
Jesus does not affirm the forces that have led to this woman’s poverty but Jesus does value, in the midst of this situation, HOW she gives without reservation.
Having two coins, she certainly could have kept one, but she gives all she has.
She believes that God is worthy of her gift… and she trusts God completely, believing that God will take care of her and provide for her.
And Jesus, who is looking on sees the truth: this widow’s gift to God is truly extravagant.
It can be a meaningful devotional practice to read the stories of the Bible and imagine where we fit into the story.
As we hear this word of God, where do you find your place in the story?
Do we see ourselves as the poor widow?
Like her, is our trust in God unshakable, so that we can return all we have to the God who first entrusted it to us?
Like her, are we are secure in our knowledge that the One who was present at the foundation of the world and has provided for our life, provides for us still, so that we refuse to worry about our future, believing all will be well because God is gracious beyond all telling?”
AND, like this woman, do we hope. above all things, for the coming of the Kingdom of God and therefore long to use ourselves and all our resources to proclaim the Gospel?
Or do we see ourselves more as the Scribe?
Like him, is our interest in this life primarily in what we can get out for ourselves?
Like him, do we see giving to God as an option, and decide how much we will give to God after we have bought our long robes, and eaten our banquets, and spent money on recreation and entertainment?
AND, like this Scribe, do we rely primarily on ourselves, our investments, and our own smarts for future security?
My guess is that we could see ourselves as either, or both, depending on the day, the circumstance, or the season of our life.
What is clear however is that this is the last scene of Jesus’ public ministry. The only thing that remains in the Gospel according to Mark is his discourse on the temple and his passion.
In this moment, Jesus sits outside the Temple, just a week before Jesus is to be betrayed by his friends, accused by these very Scribes, and handed over to be crucified…and his teaching on this day is more than mere observational wisdom.
In pointing out this poor woman, he means to tell us something about himself.
Just as this poor woman, in her poverty, gives without reservation, so Jesus will give his whole and complete life in faithfulness to God.
Just as she gives all she has, so HE will offer himself in full and compete trust that God will vindicate him.
And so WHAT IF we were to revisit that devotional practice of imagining where we fit into this story. As we hear this word of God, what if we were to see ourselves – more than as the Scribe, more than as the Woman….as the coins?
What if we look at this story as see ourselves as those two, small copper coins, clutched in the hand of the widow?
What if we are those coins so treasured by Christ himself, who says, “Look at those two coins, they are of the greatest value. They are priceless. They are precious.”
What if we imagine that just as the widow held those coins with such love and devotion…with such joy, that Christ holds us in his hand with the same love and devotion and joy.
The cross of Jesus Christ is our constant reminder of Christ’s love for us. We see that he gives himself to us, so that, “though the Son of God was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich.”
And we are rich indeed, because God loves us, wholly and completely, without reservation; not because of the amount of our passion, our intellect, or our trust in God; not because of what the world says we’re worth or because of what we think we’re worth.
God treasures us, because he graciously chooses to treasure us, and so we are rich.
God sees us as valuable, and says we are valuable, and so we are valuable.
There is a great song, written by Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco, who are from Chicago, in which he sings these words:
Our love, our love, our love is all we have…..Our love, Our love, our love is all of God’s money.
What if our love is all we have?
What if we are God’s money, being spent in the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God?