The Riches of Poverty

james-c-christensen-the-widows-mite1“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” I wonder if you can guess who said that? John Wesley.

He went on to say ““When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy and prosperous. Now, if that man when he gets all he can and saves all he can, does not give all he can, I have more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man!” This morning, in our series on Jesus, Mean and Wild, we meet the lady who knew how to handle money. I want us to observe how impressed Jesus is with her rather than her contemporaries. We don’t know her name but we do learn:

True Giving is Unpretentious: Observed by God’s Son
True Giving is Sacrificial: Prized in God’s Economy
True Giving is Reckless: Trusting in God’s Provision

The Riches of Poverty (Mark 12) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

True Giving is Unpretentious: Observed by God’s Son

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.” (Mark 12:41-42)

Imagine the scene. Jesus has just had a rather tense confrontation with some of the religious leaders. He heads to the Temple with his disciples. In the temple, there is a section called court of the women into which both men and women were allowed to come. This is where the Temple treasury was located. The Bible says that Jesus sat down on a bench where he could watch the people placing their offerings in one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes. Each one had a different purpose. There was a box for contributions to the building fund. One was for the priests’ salary. One was for helping the poor. When people went up to put their tithe and offering into the box they would announce the amount of the gift and its purpose. They might say, “£500 for the building fund, and £200 for the hunger relief fund.” Their gifts made a good deal of noise as they fell into the collection boxes.

But not this widow’s contribution. Her two coins were lepta, the smallest coins in circulation. They were worth almost nothing. And had it not been for Jesus, her visit to the Temple that day would have been unnoticed. But Jesus not only observed her giving. He observed her condition and motivation. Do you realise God is observing us in the same way today? Does he delight in our motives? Giving is an act of worship, our response to God’s generosity. In giving we are expressing our gratefulness. It is not the amount but the motivation Jesus is looking at. True Giving is Unpretentious: Observed by God’s Son.

True Giving is Sacrificial: Prized in God’s Economy

“Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:43)

Amidst the noise of the large quantities of coins being tossed into the collection boxes, this woman’s contribution would not have been heard or noticed. But in God’s upside down economy the noise made by her small gift was deafening. As she leaves, unnoticed in the crowds, Jesus thought her gift so important he draws the attention of his disciples to her.

It is not the amount given but the motivation of the giver that is prized in God’s economy. Think about it – money is of no value to God. Paul says in Athens,

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25)

God wants us to give, not because he needs our money but because we need to show that we trust him. The Lord puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 9:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

Our generosity is measured not by what others may give but by what we are capable of giving, and by what we are willing to give. That is why we encourage members of Christ Church to give joyfully, willingly, secretly and in proportion to your ability.  Mother Teresa once said,

“If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving” Think about that.  “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.” That was the principle behind tithing. Giving a tenth of one’s income to the Lord was only the start of giving.  Free-will offerings were just that – separate and in addition to one’s tithe. Notice how the Lord describes reluctance to tithe through the prophecy of Malachi:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse your whole nation because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:8-10)

To my knowledge this is the only time in the Bible we are told to test God. Test his faithfulness. Test his provision. True Giving is Unpretentious: Observed by God’s Son. True Giving is Sacrificial: Prized in God’s Economy.

True Giving is Reckless: Trusting in God’s Provision

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44)

What some might regard as foolish recklessness, Jesus praises. Jesus praises her because she had literally given all her worldly wealth to the God she loved. She placed herself entirely in the hands of God. And there is no safer place to be.  She had no one else to provide for her. And in this act of dedication she became totally dependent on God. Have you ever been in such a place? It may be utterly scary but it is totally liberating. I can only remember being in that place once in my life. As a student I went on holiday to Sweden and discovered it was rather more expensive than I had budgeted for. During my last few days and on the ferry home I lived on bread and jam bought with the last of my Kroners. When I arrived at Harwich I was penniless. I remember being accosted by a beggar on the railway station who asked me for money and empathising with him as I was broke too. When you have nothing left you become very dependent. The lady in our story had no where to turn but God and his provision. Did he provide for her? We are not told. How ever we do know that God promises to provide for all who trust in Him. Psalm 37 says,

“The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.” (Psalm 37:18-19)

That is why Jesus insists,

“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Be wise and attend to obeying. Let Christ manage the providing.”  What about you? Do you think God means us to believe these promises apply to us today? Too often, we play it safe don’t we?  We play it safe when we give to God with the attitude,  “I’ll give this amount, but I’ll hold back the rest just in case God doesn’t come through for me.” This applies to more than money. It applies to our time and service for God as well. We play it safe. We want to stay in our comfort zone. So let me ask you, are you reckless for God? Are you extravagant with God? That was why Jesus praises the widow’s giving, because it was unpretentious,  it was sacrificial, it was reckless.

Now if you remain unconvinced that “this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”, let me give a more recent example.

Hattie May Wiatt, stood crying near a small church from which she had been turned away because it ’was too crowded.’ “I can’t go to Sunday School,” she sobbed to the preacher as he walked by. The preacher looked on her shabby, unkempt appearance, and guessed the real reason. Taking her by the hand, he took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday School class. The child was so touched that she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus. About two years later, Hattie died and her parents called for the preacher, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, to make the funeral arrangements. They told him that they found a worn and crumpled purse. Inside were 57 cents and a note scribbled in childish handwriting, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school.” For two years she had saved these small almost worthless coins.

He wrote, “After the funeral the mother handed me the little bag with the gathered 57 cents. I took it to the church and stated that we had the first gift toward the new Sunday school building; I… offered them for sale. I received about $250 for the 57 pennies; and 54 of those cents were returned to me by the people who bought them. I then had them put in a frame where they could be seen and exhibited them, and we received by a sale of the $250 changed into pennies money enough to buy the next house north of the church. I walked over to see Mr. Baird, who lived on the corner and asked him what he wanted for this lot. He said that he wanted $30,000. I told him that we had only 54 cents toward the $30,000, but that we were foolish enough to think that some time we would yet own that lot. Mr. Baird said: ‘I have been thinking this matter over and have made up my mind I will sell you that lot for $25,000, and I will take the 54 cents as the first payment and you may give me a mortgage for the rest at 5%. I went back and so reported to the church, and they said: ‘Well, we can raise more money than 54 cents’, but I went over and left the 54 cents with Mr. Baird and took a receipt for it as a part payment on the lot. Mr. Baird afterwards returned the 54 cents as a gift. Thus we bought the lot, and thus encouraged of God step by step, we went on constructing this church. Then with the 54 cents they began work on Temple University, which over the years has trained thousands of young people in medicine, law and theology. Then they used the 54 cents to build the Samaritan hospital serving over 30,000 people a year.  This eventually became Temple University Hospital which still provides free care for those unable to afford payment, regardless of race, nationality or creed.

In Baptist Temple Church which moved to Blue Bell, Pasadena, there is a picture of the Hettie whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history and helped inspire others to build not only a church, but a university and a hospital. Giving which God delights in is unpretentious because it is observed by God’s Son. Giving which God delights in is sacrificial because it is prized in God’s economy. Giving which God delights in is reckless because it demonstrates complete trust in God’s provision. May you find that to be true in your experience today. Lets pray.


With grateful thanks to Joel Santos, Wesley Bishop, Danilo Santiago and Paul Tuck, over on for their sermons on this passage, together with the commentaries on Mark’s Gospel by Dick France (The People’s Bible Commentary) and J.C. Ryle (Crossway Classic Commentaries).