In a world of non-commitment or partial commitment to God can a Christian be totally committed to God?
I want us to understand that our relationship with God involves our all.
We will discuss two kinds of Christian, the takers and givers in the context of Mark 12:38-44.1
Mark 12:38 Jesus also taught: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. 39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.”
41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.
43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
1Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
1. Robes and Salutations (vs. 38-39)
Is there anything wrong with the scribes devotion to Holy Scripture, or wearing distinctive religious clothing and being greeted in public? Of course not, except when that desire is an outward show to elicit praise from men rather than pointing people to praise God. Scribes wore white to separate themselves from other people. They got in line ahead of the elderly and even their own parents. They loved titles and as they walked by, people were expected to rise respectfully. Yet, their job was not to give glory to themselves, but to God, and they failed miserably. Should we all dress in plain clothes like some Christians and avoid special titles because our job is to glorify God? Is it a matter of legalistically enforcing a dress code and avoiding religious titles, or is it a matter of the heart?
2. Religious Abuse (vs. 40)
Historically, Christians in Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches have been involved in financial corruption from misusing indulgences to fund-raise for Saint Peter’s Basilica to the confiscation of property, often by labeling the owners as heretics. So, we cannot judge the scribes as being any worse than some people in our own Christian history. Clearly, the use of religion for selfish and abusive purposes is nothing new. Sometimes the church is the Whore of Babylon and sometimes the Bride of Christ. The scribes were actually not well off financially and relied upon the good graces of wealthy contributors so they could concentrate on their work. The potential for compromising the message is ever present. Do we focus our faith on Christ and not on the ones who flatter or coerce us, demanding that we preach what they want to hear?
3. The Monetized Church (vs. 40)
It seems that everything today is “monetized,” filled with annoying in-your-face advertising. It seems that we cannot escape the ubiquitous money-grubbing brainwashing. Even within the church there are those who have fallen prey to the false Gospel of Mammon, selling seeds of faith like merchandise, and preaching health, materialism and wealth rather than self-sacrifice. Just like certain ancient teachers of God’s law, some today are not satisfied with the offering plate. Jesus described an ancient kind of misuse of money, those who devoured widows houses. Shamelessly cheating people out of property in the name of religion is nothing new. It is just one example of many ways to use religion as a scam for personal gain, money-changers in the temple. Jesus contrasted this greed among believers with a widow who was in it to give generously and not to take.
4. Total Commitment (vs. 41-44)
Can Christians be totally committed to very faulty churches? Most Christians will eventually be offended, disappointed or deeply hurt by the church. All churches are faulty. Some people choose to leave, looking for that perfect church. Others choose like the widow. As a member of that class of people who had been abused by these faulty religious leaders, how could she not be aware of the abuses? Yet, she did not worship mere human beings. It seems that she understood something remarkable. God in his wonderful grace, chooses to work through faulty instruments and even calls the church his special treasure and his bride. Jesus revealed some of the dirty underbelly of the Jewish church and an exceptional woman who, rather than walk away, showed the total commitment of someone who focused on God behind the scenes rather than people.
Summary: 2 kinds of Christian
Jesus reminds us of two ways of life: taking and giving. Some Christians miss the point here and think that Jesus is banning clergy clothing, public recognition, religious titles and long prayers. He is not making any such rules. But, religious pretense can be used as a cover up for sins like self-promotion and exploitation. This is contrasted with a poor and needy woman who gave extravagantly. Most of us are probably not so selfish but also not so giving. We are somewhere in the middle. We may know of cases of theft from the church or exploiting the poor. Most of us are not like that, and not too many of us are like the widow, who gave lavishly what she could not afford. So, where do we lie between these two extremes? Are we more givers than takers?
There are two ways of life, one exemplified by those who seek prestige and wealth and the other exemplified by a woman who gave generously in self-sacrifice. Which way are we called to be living?