Here's how much I love you

Jesus didn’t praise the widow's offering as a preservation of the beautiful temple. He praised it because the offering represented the location of the new temple—her heart. Her trust in God’s abundance, fruitfulness, and love of his people drove the woman to love God back. Here’s how much I love you. Everything I’ve got. 

Image by Wolfgang Eckert

The widow's heart portends where the new temple will be

By John Pearring
Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20
Mark 12:38-44

Without concern, or fear, Jesus remained in Jerusalem where his enemies could easily see him—the same temple he had just trashed.

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

Jesus ignores everybody and everything to focus on a poor widow who came and put in two small coins. He’s got quite an entourage, too. Why does he focus on a small, unimpressive, diminutive widow woman in the temple setting?

Most folks consider that widow’s offering as the de facto stewardship moment. That’s true. We are encouraged by her generosity to give when the Church offering is requested. But this widow’s story leads way beyond money. Her gesture exemplifies what we are to do with our lives, not just our money. Build things, but put your trust in God. The world is crashing down around us. Do like the widow does.

The widow’s greater gift challenges the values of the world. Those listening to Jesus clearly don’t get his point, because in the next verse, after Jesus says, “she . . . has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood,” Mark quotes a disciple who argues with Jesus about the wealthy gifts.

“As [Jesus] was making his way out of the temple area one of his disciples said to him, “Look, teacher, what stones and what buildings!”

Look at this fabulous temple, Jesus. How can the widow’s might be greater than the gifts of the others? See the result of their giving, the disciple argues? The widow may have given all she had, but the wealthy built this amazing temple. Come on, Jesus!

The Temple was a truly beautiful site, adorned with costly stones and innumerable votive offerings. Today, a votive offering is usually cash to light a candle in church—a buck to pay for the candle. In Jesus’ time, expensive artifacts and great gifts would be placed around the temple. People could see what contributions were given, and probably knew who gave them. These type of donations continue today. For two millennia, generous gifts have piled up, adorning vast areas of the Vatican, a veritable cache of valuables.

Jesus looked around the temple, along with the crowd, and told them that “days will come” when there will not be left a stone upon another stone. The temple, and all that they saw would be flattened. His arms encompassed much more than the temple. Jesus referred to the entire city of Jerusalem. It would all be destroyed.

“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.” Jesus, though, was not defending the widow’s mite as a worthy token against a physical temple’s glory. Nothing can save the world. The woman gave not for the temple but for God.

Their attentions shift, again setting aside the widow. What’s this about destruction, question his disciples? Forget the widow, the crowd was now thinking. When will this temple and the city itself be destroyed. Any one of us there would probably be among the first to ask, “Uh, say there, Jesus? That’s cool about the widow. Great gal, and all that, but exactly when is this destruction going to happen?”

They’d already dismissed the tale of the widow. Total destruction? He’s said this before, when he trashed this very place, and then told them the temple would be destroyed and he’d raise it up in 3 days. They weren’t tracking with Jesus, because a second question is immediately asked. “Will there be a warning, some sign?” Come on, Jesus. Give us a bone, here!

It’s in this context, the prediction of what we now know was the very real destruction of Jerusalem in 72 AD. Approximately 40 years (an ominous amount of time in biblical numerology) from when Jesus foretells this destruction. Does Jesus tell them when it would happen? No.

Jesus sidesteps the destruction to give them a warning about false teachers enticing his disciples, in his name. The temple destruction is one thing, but a more important disaster awaits. Phony baloneys will take the disciple’s keen desire to plan for the destruction of Jerusalem. Liars, Jesus said, will state the place and time, and the disciples will be mislead. Jesus tells them not to focus on the destruction that he told them about. Jesus said, “See that no one deceives you.” Do not follow them, and do not be terrified by their shouting and concentration on the terrible event.

Jesus focused upon the widow’s gift of everything she had in order to stress necessary trust in God. Don’t focus on the holy place, the temple. It, and the entire city of Israel, will be destroyed. And, don’t focus on the destruction. It’s important, sure, but the issue is the widow’s trusting heart in the face of destruction and deceit.

Jesus was right. There were many wars and insurrections after his death. Earthquakes, famines and plagues. All recorded, by the way. This is not a parable. A bunch of deceivers would lie about who they were, and about the end of the world. They would weave end of times stories to pull on emotions and fears, and still do today.

In the next set of verses in Luke Jesus tells those listening to him what they personally should do. It’s still true today. We will be challenged to believe in things other than Jesus. We may even be thrown in jail. Do not despair, and do not prepare a defense. It’s going to be scary. We’ll be confused. Hang in there. Like the poor, trusting widow who did not lose anything by giving everything away. “I will give you a mouth and wisdom.”

Jesus uses a widow’s simple devotion in tribute to amplify her trust, respect, and hope. Even though the temple was packed with expensive stuff, way over the top, Jesus praised the woman’s offering to affirm her relationship with God.

He didn’t praise her offering as a preservation of the beautiful temple. He praised it because the offering represented the location of the new temple—her heart. Her trust in God’s abundance, fruitfulness, and love of his people drove the woman to love God back. Here’s how much I love you. Everything I’ve got. 

God doesn’t want a physical location for his existence on earth. He wants hearts like the widows. That’s where he wants to live.

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