You have all heard this morning’s Gospel text before. This is the story of the widow’s mite. And I am sure you have each heard you’re your share of stewardship sermons referencing this text. I’ve heard them too. You should give all you can give; you should give until it hurts. You should have faith enough to give like the widow gave – all that she had. If you don’t give enough, maybe you don’t have enough faith. Even if you only have a little to give, you should give it for it is great in the eyes of God. Did I miss anything? But to tell you the truth, I’m no more comfortable preaching on stewardship than you are hearing it. Do you know why? It is because of the first part of our Gospel text for today. Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Remember, the scribe were the men charged with passing on the law and the words of the prophets to the people. They were the pastors of their day. I am a modern day scribe standing up here in my long robes proclaiming the Word of God, greeting the faithful, and making prayers for the congregation. I find it striking that in the passage just before one of the most commonly used texts by modern scribes to preach about the giving of money to the church is a warning about the pride and avarice of the scribes, and I take this warning to heart. So no, I do not like to preach on stewardship.
But for all we have heard over the years about how this text applies to money and the giving of money to the church, I don’t think that this text is about money at all. After all, what is money? If you look at the paper, the coins, and the plastic that we hold, are they really worth anything in and of themselves. No, they are only strips of paper, disks of medal, and chunks of plastic, nothing more. The true value of money is in what it represents. We do work and in that work, we serve our neighbor, in compensation for that service, we receive these tokens which we use to acquire things from others, compensating them for their service to us. The real issue raised by Jesus is not how valuable is our gift, but what God Himself values.
Let me set the scene for you. The inner area of the Temple contained three courts surrounding the Holy of Holies (the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites, and the Court of the Priests). The easternmost court was the Court of the Women, and it contained the Temple treasury where people donated their money. The thirteen trumpet shaped chests that made up the Temple treasury were lined up against the wall of the Court of the Women. The first two Trumpets were dedicated to the half-shekel Temple-tax that each person was required to pay each year. The money given there represented the people’s requirements to support the worship of God. The next six trumpets were dedicated to money used to purchase sacrifices. The money given there represented the atonement required for the sins and trespasses of the people. And the final five trumpets were dedicated for the voluntary offerings to the temple. Now these five final trumpets of the temple treasury, had to be the place where Jesus stood opposite of and watched the people put their money in. Why? Because this widow had so little money that she could not afford to pay her Temple tax (which was 100 times more than all the money she had); she could not pay for any of the required sacrifices (the smallest of which was 6 times more than all the money she had). So the only place this widow could have given her two small coins was in one of these five final trumpets. And that is what made this gift so unusual. You see, people would come and first pay their temple tax, then they would pay for their sacrifices, and those who had excess income – the wealthy – would give money by dropping it in one of these five trumpets. So those who typically walked over so proudly and dropped these voluntary gifts into one of these five trumpets, were in literally ‘trumpeting’ their wealth. They gave, because they had the extra to give, and in giving it, they made a public statement about who they were, and how pious they were in their wealth. We know this, because there was a fourteenth treasury chest called ‘a chamber of the silent’ where secret gifts could be placed. Any of the wealthy could have used it. But no, these people were proudly bringing their gifts forward and ‘trumpeting’ their wealth and piety. But this widow was ‘trumpeting’ something else. She had so little, that she could not even exchange it for clean Temple currency. Her two little coins were not only inadequate, they were unclean and illegal. Her gift was entirely unacceptable, but nonetheless she came, and in spite of their inadequacy, in spite of their unacceptability, she gave them all the same. Why? Because it was all she had to give.
You see, these others lived by the law, and they gave according to the law. They gave what the law required for the Temple tax and for the sacrifices required by the law, and then they gave of their wealth and in their gift they ‘trumpeted’ their righteous, their goodness, and their value to God. But not this widow, she could not keep the law, she could not pay the Temple tax or for the sacrifices required by the law. So when she came up and brought her two insignificant and unacceptable coins, she ‘trumpeted’ her sinfulness, her unworthiness, and her inability to meet the demands of the law. In the wealthy, the law had not done its work. They believed they could measure up. More than that, they thought they were superior to what the law demanded, but not this widow. In her the law had done its work, in her the law had served its purpose. She was not worthy of God and had nothing of worth to give to God, but that is what she offered; that is what she ‘trumpeted’. She had nothing and she gave it all.
This is what God wants from each of us, not shows of righteousness and piety; not acts of pride that seek to demonstrate to God and your neighbor just how good you are. God wants all of you, not your excess, not your pride, but all of you. None of us has anything of value to give to God. He neither needs, nor desires, anything you have to give. Apart from Him you have no life at all, and that is what He calls us to give, all of our life. And when we offer that gift to God, we find that our hands are empty. God’s law shows us that we have nothing to give to God. But rather it is God that gives us all. Only God can meet the demands of His law. Jesus came and paid the price that was ours to pay, and Jesus died to be the perfect sacrifice that the law demanded of us. But more than this, through Jesus death and resurrection, He opens the door to you through the Court of the Women, through the Court of the Israelites, through the Court of the Priests directly to the Holy of Holies itself. Through the gift of faith in Him, Jesus brings you into eternal life in the very presence of God. So come and bring all of you. Trumpet your sin; trumpet your inadequacy; trumpet your failure. And receive the gift that only God can give. Trumpet His grace; trumpet His mercy; and trumpet His salvation that is yours through faith in Jesus Christ.