The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 12:38 “In His teaching He was saying: ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.’ 41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’” (NASB)
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus dealt with people according to their faith or lack thereof. When people came to Jesus sick, weak, disabled, humble, contrite, and in the midst of hardships, Jesus had compassion for them. He helped them. He healed the sick. He comforted those who mourned. He spoke the Gospel to them.
But when people came to Jesus arrogant, as tricksters, self-righteous, and filled with hypocrisy Jesus made His righteous anger obvious. The best example of this was the cleansing of the temple at the start and near the end of His earthly ministry.
This morning assigned Gospel lesson took place during the week leading up to His crucifixion. Jesus was sitting in the temple teaching when He was approached by some of the temple scribes. One of the scribes asked Jesus a question. “What commandment is the foremost of all?” It was a question of the Law. Jesus answered the question correctly of course, then He turned the tables on the scribes. He asked the people a question that gets to the heart of the Gospel and the hypocrisy of the scribes..
Verse 35, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.’ 37 David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?’”
The scribe thought when he asked the question about the greatest Commandment, he was asking a question about the way of salvation. Keep the
foremost of the commandments and all will be well between God and the man. But Jesus follows that question and answer with a question and answer about the Messiah, about Himself. He points the scribes and the people to Himself, the way of salvation – to David’s Lord, the Christ.
The scribes in the temple were the men who were in charge of making copies of Old Testament scrolls. They spent their adult lives writing down the very words of God, the individual words of God. They did it over and over again. The repetition of the process meant that they knew the Old Testament Scriptures very well. They knew the Law. They knew the stories. They knew the major and minor prophets. They knew that God had on more than one occasion condemned the religious leaders of Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem for their exploitation of the poor and widows. They also knew what King David said regarding one of his decedents, the Messiah.
That brings us to where this morning’s assigned Gospel lesson picks up. “In His teaching He was saying: ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.’”
Like the Pharisees, Priests, Levites, and Sadducees, the scribes were upright, religious, respected, well compensated, and, thought of as holy men. Yet, they were hypocrites in the classic definition of the term. They were people who pretended to have certain moral or religious, but who’s actions belie their stated beliefs.
Like most hypocrites, the scribes that Jesus was talking about were guilty of self-delusion, of lying to themselves. They believed that they held the moral high ground and lived by the commandments. And like the unrighteous leaders condemned in the Old Testament, the scribes used a twisted understanding of the law and traditions to force the poor, especially widows into paying money to th temple they could not afford. When they could not pay or fell behind, they confiscated the widow and poor’s property. They used their positions in the temple to prey on the helpless. Thus Jesus teaches “They will receive the greater condemnation.”
In contrast, Jesus takes the opportunity of a poor widow woman putting an offering in the temple box as an example of great faith. He calls His disciples to Himself and praises the poor widow who placed two small copper coins, which amount to a cent into the offering plate. It was all she had. While the wealth and the apparent generosity of the religious leaders was on display for all to see in their substantial gifts, Jesus directs us to true faith, humility, and generosity.
The religious leaders gave out of their surplus. We call it discretionary income. The extra money we have that we don’t need to pay for the essentials of life. While the scribes gave money they didn’t need, money from ill gotten gain, the widow quietly approaches the offering box and gives everything she has.
Jesus calls His disciples and lifts her up as an example of faith. Jesus did not lift the woman up as an example of good works. He was doing what He always did. He is holding her up as an example of true Christian faith in contrast to people who trusted in themselves, in their own intentions, and in their own good deeds. The text tells us that rich people were putting in large sums of money, coins into the box.
For most of human history all money was coin and coins make noise when they hit the bottom of the treasury box or when one coin lands on top of other coins. The bigger the offering the more noise. Needless to say, the widow’s offering would have barely made a noise. That’s why we are told in the text that she put two small copper coins. Copper is light weight and the coins were small, thus barely a noise.
She put all she had into the treasury. A literal translation of the Greek could read, “from her poverty, as much as she had, she threw her whole life.” I suspect there are a very many pastors and preachers this morning who are leveraging the Gospel lesson to get a bit more money out of the pockets of the people and into the offering plate.
But the widow’s mite is not about financial stewardship. The widow and her mite is about simple faith doing what simple faith does; trusting the Lord God. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
The world often accuses us, practicing Christians of hypocrisy. “The church is full of hypocrites” they say, usually as an excuse for not belonging or going to a church. It is always said in an effort to prove their moral superiority over practicing Christians.
But that all doesn’t mean they are wrong. They are right. The visible church is full of hypocrites, hypocrites of two kinds. Even the confessions of our church admit this truth. Of the first kind of hypocrite articles VII and VIII, which are about the Church, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession says, “Christ has compared [the church] to a net in which there are both good and bad fishes, Matt. 13:47 . . . For we grant that in this life hypocrites and wicked men have been mingled with the Church, and that they are members of the Church according to the outward fellowship of the signs of the Church.” In other words, we admit and live with the fact that the wheat and tares grow up together and on the last day, Jesus “will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
But the accusation of hypocrites in the church is also true because we ourselves are hypocrites. That was Jesus’s point in Matthew 7:2. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”
Romans 2:2 echos what Jesus said in Matthew 7:2. “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” We judge gossips because they gossip, then we turn around and do the same.
As I preach and teach all the time, we cannot, no one inside or outside the church can escape the Law. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
That’s the only kind of human beings that there are in this world. Human beings are thieves, liars, gossips, murderers, adulterers, and hypocrites. The question is whether individual members of the visible church are also forgiven Christians who belong to the hidden, Una Sancta, the One Holy Church. Have we received and do we live in the person and work of Jesus Christ? This is why we read in the Epistle lesson, “Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. ”
The difference between the people of this world and the people of the Una Sancta is that we are forgiven our sins. The church is also full of thieves who are forgiven; liars who are forgiven; murderers who are forgiven; adulterers who are forgiven; and hypocrites who have been forgiven their hypocrisy.
Just as this poor widow put her whole life into the God holy house as an act of faith, so the Holy One of Israel, the One Who watched the widow put two coins in the treasury put Himself, His life of perfect obedience and love, His atoning death on the cross as the payment for sin, my sin, your sin, and the sin of the whole. Jesus became the hypocrite in our stead. He became our hypocrisy. But not only did He become a hypocrite in this sense. He became a hypocrite in a rather strange sense.
Remember a hypocrite is a person who is one thing while in reality another. In the eyes of the religious authorities and many others, Jesus went to the cross as a blasphemer, as the worst kind of sinner, a man who made himself out to be God, thus he appeared to be one thing during His trial, torture, and crucifixion, that is He appeared, took on the part, “pretended” to be a sinner, while in reality He was without any kind of fault or malice – He was a strange kind of “hypocrite.”
The woman, she came before God “out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on” in the treasury. When our Lord called William Goad home to Himself yesterday morning, William took with Him the only gift he had to offer. Ironic isn’t it. It was the gift that God had given to William in the water and the Word. It was the gift of the Gospel and of faith. We too come this morning to this God’s house out of our poverty. We have no good works, no merit or worthiness in us. All we have is that which God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have supplied. The forgiveness of our sins.
The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to give us the same faith that the poor widow in today’s Gospel had. He works through the word of forgiveness that we received earlier in this service as baptized children of God. He works through the audible Word of God that we received in the readings and explained in the sermon. He works through the tangible Word of God that we will eat and drink in the sacrament. The faith that the Holy Spirit gives us, receives the gifts that Jesus Christ earned for us as He gave His life for us. The faith that the Holy Spirit works in us through Word and Sacrament, gives us a share in the Kingdom of God. In that kingdom, we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen