Sermon Summary from September 10, 2017
Mark 12:38–44 (NIV) • Pastor Tim Tseng
Jesus’ observations about the poor widow who gave her last two copper coins to the temple is both a commendation of her sacrifice and a lamentation about a religious system that impoverished widows (i.e., “devoured” widows’ homes). Jesus’ disciples should therefore be known for their sacrifice and efforts to correct systems of social and spiritual impoverishment.
1. Widows in the bible.
— In the bible times, widows had a more difficult and dangerous life than widows today. Most ancient societies didn’t provide safety nets for widows and their children. The Gentile widow of Zarephath that Elijah ministered during a great drought was willing to share her last meal with Elijah, but resigned herself and her son to death (I Kings 17:12). Like the widow in Mark, she gave all she had.
— But God had a different idea about how the people of Israel were to treat widows (and orphans, foreigners, and the most vulnerable). God especially cared for widows and commanded his people to provide economic and legal protection. At Sinai, Israel was commanded not to “take advantage (afflict) any widow or orphan” (Exod 22:22). Legislation in defense of widows and orphans was expanded and intensified in Deut. 10:18 where God describes himself as one who “defends [executes justice] for the fatherless and the widow” Therefore, human judges must deal justly with the marginalized (cf. Deut 24:17, 19).
— Part of this justice meant that widows and orphans were to partake of the tithes (Deut 14:29; 26:12–13), which was to be shared along with the Levites. Widows were to enjoy special gleaning privileges (Deut 24:19–21) – see Ruth 2.
— In sum, the temple establishment was supposed to have provided social protection and economic assistance to widows (Exod 22:22, 24; Deut 10:18; 14:29; 24:17, 19–21; 26:12–13; 27:19)
2. Widows were exploited by the teachers of the law during Jesus’ days.
— When Jesus described the impoverished widow, he is not only commending her sacrifice, but also showing why the leaders of Israel, including the teachers of the law, had to repent. They walked around in flowing robes, wanted to be greeted with respect in the marketplace, sought the most important seats in the synagogues, jostled for places of honor at banquets, and made lengthy prayers. These teachers of the law may have known, in theory, that they were to love God and love the neighbor, but they were more interested in loving themselves first. They were hypocrites because they could not apply into their lives what they knew that Scripture taught.
— And as a result, under their leadership, the temple had become an institution of oppression of widows and other marginalized people. As Jesus said, these teachers of the law “devoured the houses of widows.” Hypocrisy and vanity were one thing, but the ruin and impoverishment of the most vulnerable in ancient society was quite another. They created and perpetuated a system that impoverished widows and others. Isn’t that why Jesus so harshly concluded that “These men will be punished most severely”?
— Jesus was not saying anything new. By referring to the exploitative treatment of widows, he was echoing what the OT prophets said many, many years before (e.g., Isa 1:23; 10:2; Ezek 22:7; Job 22:9; 24:3; Jer 7:6-7). Jesus is also a prophet and he most certainly wanted the leaders of Israel to return to God.
— We don’t know what happened to the poor widow. Did she get support from the Temple? Did she die? Jesus did not offer a conclusion. But the Elijah story does and it reiterated God’s desire for widows and orphans:
[the widow] did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah (1 Kings 17:15-16).
3. Application of this scripture.
— First, it is clear that Jesus wanted Israel to obey God’s law about how to treat widows. He cares about how society treats its most vulnerable. So Christians today should advance and support social policy that protects our most vulnerable.
— Despite the fact that the temple system was rigged against this poor widow, she still gave out of obligation to the Law and out of her poverty. She trusted that God would take care of her and gave all she had. While we ought to commend her, here is an opportunity to examine ourselves. Not so much about how much we sacrifice, but whether we are perpetuating a system that causes people to be physically AND spiritually impoverished.
— The teachers of the law were be punished more harshly because of their hypocrisy and exploitation. They knew what the bible taught, but acted in the opposite manner. We also should examine ourselves.
— One of the reasons why I entered ministry is because, as a teenager, I saw people who were hungry for God come to my church. But our church leaders didn’t provide spiritual food. Parents who don’t set an example of faith and did not feed their kids the truth of the gospel. They only wanted the church to teach their kids how to be moral. My fellow teens and I only want to play, socialize, and talk about everyday stuff. We ignored real deep questions about God and our calling, leaving it up to our Chinese speaking pastors (who we didn’t really understand). In sum, I went into ministry because I wanted to stop perpetuating systems of spiritual impoverishment. I wanted to help change that system. I wanted the spiritually hungry to have good answers to their struggles about the faith.
— So let us repent of our perpetuation of a system of material and spiritual impoverishment. Let us do all we can to lift up those who are hungry for God!