TODAY’S ARTICLE IS REPRODUCED FROM YESTERDAY’S LEHMAN LEARNER. I EMAIL AN EXPOSITORY STUDY OF A SECTION OF A BIBLE BOOK EACH MORNING. YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE AT “LEHMANOFFICECOC@GMAIL.COM.”
S.J. Friesen, in a book edited by Susan R. Holman entitled Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society. Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History (2008), reveals at least seven categories or classes in imperial Rome. This would have certainly applied to Jesus’ day. From top to bottom, they were:
Imperial elites (0.04% of society)
Regional or provincial elites (1%)
Municipal elites (1.76%)
Moderate surplus resources (7% estimated)
Stable near subsistence level with reasonable hope of remaining above the minimum level to sustain life (22% estimated)
At subsistence level and often below minimum level to sustain life (40%)
Below subsistence level (28%) (p. 19-20)
In that lowest category were included beggars, the disabled, unskilled day laborers, prisoners, and unattached widows.
So the woman we meet in Mark 12:41-44 was on the bottom rung of society. Typically, every day was a fight for survival and full of uncertainty about meeting the basic needs of life. She had no advocates, champions, and could have been the target of unscrupulous men if she had a house or anything her husband had left her. Just before Jesus calls attention to the widow in our text, He had condemned the scribes for at least five offenses. The fourth was that they “devour widows’ houses” (40), for which “they will receive the greater condemnation” (40). Was the widow in these verses one of their victims?
What we know is that she enters the alms area of the temple in the court of women carrying “two small copper coins, which make a penny” (42). He makes no judgment on the contributions made by the wealthy, but holds up the woman as a contrast to the scribes and any who practiced pretentious religion.
She gives unpretentiously. She does not draw attention to herself. She quietly slips in the two coins. It is because Jesus is omniscient and observant that He is aware of her gift. She did not make any announcements or ask for any prayer requests, that God help her since she was giving everything to God. It was an assuming moment in time that might have passed unnoticed but for Jesus.
She gives sacrificially. Many rich people put in large sums (41), yet Jesus says they contributed out of their abundance (44). However much they gave, they could continue their lifestyle at the same rate and pace as before their gift. But she “put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (44). The Macedonians were great givers, who “according to their ability, and beyond their ability gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3). As incredible as that is, this poor widow gave more. Only Jesus could exceed her gift (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).
She gives abundantly. Jesus signifies this by saying she gave more than the rich that day (43). It was not a competition to her, a cause for swelling pride. We will suggest her motive in a moment, but the consequence of her gift was that it was unmatched generosity. Those whose giving cost them something know the fulness of heart and the favor of God this woman must have felt. What a challenge!
She gives trustingly. Mark does not tell us this. In fact, neither does Luke (21:1-4). But what other conclusion can we draw? She gave God all she had to live on. Do we suppose that she left the temple, curled up in a ball, and died of starvation and exposure? Is that how God has ever responded to those who give in faith? Has anyone ever out-given God? That does not mean that God moved her up a rung or two in society because of her gift. That is a very materialistic way to view this account. Instead, the way she gave was inseparably joined to the way she lived. She gave with reckless abandon, left only with a confidence that God would be her protector. Had she heard that day or at some point the words of the psalmist, “How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked” (146:5-9)? She seemed to know the source of her help and hope, her administrator of justice, provisions, and support. She gave accordingly.
Next Sunday, we will make an offering as part of our worship. Across 2,000 years, Jesus holds up this widow to challenge us. Will we give like her, unpretentiously, sacrificially, abundantly, and trustingly? If we do, will He cause us to suffer? That is the mental battleground upon which we all stand. May He help us successfully fight that battle.
2 Kings 4 records an incredible story. In verse one we are introduced to a poor widow who has just hit rock bottom. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn and in her pain and sorrow she did the only thing she knew she could do; she turned to God. She “cries out to Elisha” and the Hebrew word for “cries” literally means that she was wailing in anguish. This widow was heartbroken and in need. But this account reveals to us some comforting truths about God. By studying this account we can find peace in knowing that God has a solution to our problems.
Elisha says to her, “‘What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside’” (2-4). This woman had nothing but a jar of oil, but not for long. She does what Elisha tells her to do and the jar of oil filled every single vessel she collected.
And that’s the end of that story. The widow came to God while she was at her lowest, and God provided for her. He gave her the oil she needed to fix her problems. The end.
But what about MY oil? Maybe you’re thinking, “When is God going to fix my problems and provide my oil? When will He give me the money for an electric bill? When will He fix my broken heart? When will God take care of me?” Let me tell you about the oil that God has given you. If you’re a christian, God has already taken care of you. He has blessed us with a gift far more precious than gold. He has promised to one day wipe away every tear from your eyes. If you’re a Christian, God is already taking care of your most valuable possession–your soul.
God has given us the oil that never runs dry. Now that’s not to say that God will do for us physically what we ask, but even if he doesn’t He has already shown us more love and care than anyone else on earth. God is more concerned with my spiritual state than my bank account. God is more concerned about my work as a Christian than my 9-5 job. God is more concerned about my soul than whether or not I am comfy here on earth.
God never promised us that if we become Christians we would be financially blessed. But He HAS promised to give us a reward like no other if we are faithful in times of trouble. God has and will provide for those who are faithful to Him.
I’d like to suggest that the account from 2 Kings 4 isn’t necessarily about the oil. It was about the widow’s faith, it was about her obedience, and it was a demonstration of the power of God. But from this account we learn that God provides for those in need, and we can find peace in knowing that our most valuable possession is in the hands of Almighty God.