Sacrificial Death for Sacrificial Living
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 12:38–12:44
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 10-11, 2012
“Sacrificial Death for Sacrificial Living”
The story is told about the farmer who woke up one morning and decided that he wanted ham and eggs for breakfast. He went outside to the barn, found his best-laying hen, rounded up a prime young pig, and said: “I’ve got a taste for ham and eggs this morning! How about it?” The hen responded immediately by delivering two fine grade A extra-large eggs, but the pig wasn’t so sure and hesitated. The hen turned to the pig and said: “What’s your problem? The farmer feeds us, shelters and protects us, and gives us everything we need. The least we could do is give him some ham and eggs for breakfast.” To which the pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. All he wants from you is a contribution. He wants total commitment from me!” We’re not told what the farmer ended up having for breakfast that day, whether he got ham and eggs or something else.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a familiar one: the widow’s mite, as it is often called. It helps us get at the difference between a contribution and a commitment. We will look at this passage from Scripture under the theme, “Sacrificial Death for Sacrificial Living.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Some of the most vulnerable individuals in ancient society are lifted up in today’s Old Testament lesson (1Kings 17:8-16), as well as the Gospel lesson; that is, widows. There was no government safety net to help them. They were especially vulnerable because as women they often had little education, no marketable skills for the workforce, and so were frequently taken advantage of in business dealings. Widows relied on the good will of family members to help and provide for them. Without this, their situation became very grim very fast; it was not uncommon for widows literally to starve to death. God names widows as those for whom He is especially concerned, and calls his people to be likewise concerned (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17). Enter the widow in today’s Gospel lesson. She is described as a “poor” widow, but that is too weak a term for the original word here. She would be better described as destitute, in “abject poverty, one who has literally nothing and is in imminent danger of real starvation” (Linguistic Key to the New Testament, p. 124).You can almost hear the “cha-ching” of all that cold, hard cash from rich folks clanking into the temple treasury, the thirteen trumpet-shaped offering containers that were found around the walls of the court of the women in the temple. And then this destitute widow comes along and puts in two small copper coins that together were worth 1/64 of a denarius – a denarius was a day’s wages for the average worker. That was all she had; that was everything she had. As Jesus makes known, this is what distinguishes a contribution from commitment. The others put great amounts into the offering, but undoubtedly they also had great amounts left over. Not so with the widow; there was nothing left over. As Jesus tells us: “… she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).
I often wonder why that widow did what she did. Why did she feel compelled to put the little remaining money she had into the offering? Maybe she felt like the widow of Zarephath who said to Elijah when he asked her for something to eat and drink: “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die” (2 Kings 17:12). When a person is that desperate, you’ve got nothing to lose and so nothing really matters any more. As soon as the widow of Zarephath said what she did, Elijah replied: “Do not fear” (1 Kings 17:13). The Lord God will provide for you, he told her. But did anyone speak a word of comfort and hope to the widow in the temple? Did anyone intervene to help her? If so, Scripture does not record this. What that widow did is entrust herself and her tremendous need into the Lord’s care and keeping. And that takes faith – great faith. When there is nowhere else to turn, when every other avenue of support has proven fruitless, when all earthly possibilities have been removed, then the only thing that is left is God himself. Those from our congregation who have served in Haiti have seen firsthand what this looks like, and have learned what the Haitian people mean when they say: “You’ll never know God is all you need until God is all you have.”
The Epistle for today (Hebrews 9:24-28) reminds us that Jesus entered into holy places – not just the sacred precincts of the temple courts in Jerusalem where the widow placed her two coins, but into heaven itself. Jesus is that great high priest who came to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people – yours and mine. He came to atone for all of our measly contributions that we offer to God instead of the total commitment of our lives. And he did this not by a continual year-in/year-out ceremony, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Through the blood which he shed upon the cross, Jesus has cleansed us and made us his own so that we, like that widow, may entrust ourselves and our own tremendous need into the Lord’s care and keeping. Jesus’ sacrificial death leads to sacrificial living on our part. Moved by all that God in Christ has done for us, we respond to the needs of those around us – the widows and the orphans, the homeless and the hungry, the sick and the dying, victims of natural disaster including Hurricane Sandy, those we know and those we do not know. We do this because the love of Christ compels us. We do this until Jesus comes again, for “… Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). And we are eagerly waiting for him, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and praise forever. Amen.