Luke20v41toLuke21v4: THE WIDOW'S MITES

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke20v41toLuke21v4

The verses for this study may seem unconnected but they are, in fact, united by a common theme. Luke describes three instances where the judgment of Jesus is very different from the judgment of his hearers. His assessment of the Messiah, the religious leaders and a poor widow bore no resemblance to that of his contemporaries.

(B) Jesus was the Messiah no one wanted.

The religious leaders:

(1) Misread the signs.

There is a story found in other internet sermons. It goes like this: There were 3 elderly women going down the highway. A cop comes up on them and sees how slow the driver is going. He pulls the car over. He asks the driver, "Ma’am, do you know that you’re only going 23 miles per hour?" "Yes", said the driver. The cop asked, "Well why were you going so slow on the highway?" She says “Well the sign says 23." The cop says "Ma’am that’s the highway number, not the miles per hour.” She says “OHHHH!!!” He looks at the other 2 ladies in the car and asks her, "Why do the other ladies look so terrified?" She says, "Well we just got off of Highway 151!"

We do misread the signs. I can remember a parent's evening at school when a mother and father were very hostile because according to their daughter I picked on her in class. Charlotte thought I must dislike her a lot. Well it is true I asked her a lot of questions - but not because I disliked her! The opposite was the case. I had to confess to the parents, rather shamefacedly, that the reason I frequently questioned Charlotte was because I was drawn to her - I found her attractive - I liked her. Charlotte misread the signs but whether she found my explanation comforting or otherwise I never did find out!

Amazingly the Jewish leaders missed the signs that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. There were three clear signs: the perfection of his life, the wisdom of his teaching and the power of his miracles. It is not often anyone excels in one sphere of life. Donald Bradman is highly unusual in having a test match batting average so much higher than his nearest competitors. No one can compare with him. Jesus excelled in three areas life and nobody comes anywhere near him in any of them.

People still miss the signs of Jesus' ongoing influence and power. Jesus retains the power to change lives and to motivate men and women to extraordinary acts of heroism and service.

(2) Wanted a Messiah to their specification.

When Jesus asked: "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" the answer came back as quick as a flash: "The Son of David." Mt22v41and42.

The religious leaders and many others wanted a second David - a warrior king to free them from Roman oppression. They desired a charismatic leader to be the great figurehead of their nation, as David was in the distant past. Ideally the Messiah would consult with and take advice from the Pharisees who would be appointed the moral arbiters of the new kingdom of Judea.

Jesus eschewed violence. He had no armed following. There was no Galilean militia to back his bid for the Jewish throne - something Pilate was only to well aware of. It seems unlikely that Jesus was strikingly handsome or possessed great personal charm. In this respect he was very unlike David his distant ancestor. Jesus certainly wasn't going to wheel and deal with the Pharisees. Nicodemus probably came to give Jesus good advice - but the carpenter from Nazareth wasn't having any of it. John says of him: But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. Jn2v24. He wasn't going to be used by anyone.

(3) Didn't want a divine Messiah.

Jesus quoted from the Messianic Psalm 110 believed to have been written by David. He said: "David himself declares ...... 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."' David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"

Jesus was showing that the Messiah was David's Lord and as such immeasurably his superior. The Messiah's status entitled him to sit at God's right hand. David's declaration can only be explained in one way. Jesus, the Messiah, was a descendant of David and rightly called the Son of David, but he was also God's son and this made him greater by far than David.

The religious leaders didn't want a divine Messiah - one who demanded total commitment and unswerving loyalty - with little to offer by way of worldly advancement. The Pharisees and experts in the law rejected Jesus as Lord.

Many do that today:

    (a) They will invite Jesus into their lives so long as they can keep control.

    (b) They are prepared to accept Jesus as Saviour to save them from their sin but they don't want his help to save their marriage, repair a broken friendship or deal with an unruly youth club.

    (c) They are happy for Jesus to raise them from dead but are unwilling to die to self and accept the discipline of the Christian soldier.

During my career as a teacher there were a few pupils who wanted to be my friend. A boy might say, "I like you Mr Reed. Geography is my favourite subject." Yet the boy did no homework and never revised for exams. The pupil was keen to remain in my good books but inevitably persistent disobedience damaged our relationship.

We cannot enjoy a good relationship with Jesus unless we accept him as both Saviour and Lord. The hymn puts in simply:

          When we walk with the Lord
          In the light of His word,
          What a glory he sheds on our way!
          While we do his good will,
          He abides with us still
          And with all who will trust and obey

          Trust and obey, for there's no other way
          To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.

Paul spells it out like this: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Rom10v9.

The earliest and simplest creed was: Jesus is Lord.

(C) The religious leaders were not what they seemed.

Many were impressed with the religious leaders because:

(1) They looked the part. "They liked to walk around in flowing robes." v46.

Jesus also said: "They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long." Mt23v5. Devout Jews complied with the Law of Moses which stipulated that blue tassels should be attached to the corners of garments to remind the wearer to keep the commands of the LORD. The phylacteries were boxes containing verses of Scripture that were worn on the forehead and arm. So Jews wearing flowing robes with long blue tassels and sporting big Scripture boxes were making a statement about their commitment to the Law.

It is so important in our society to look the part. People are judged on superficialities like the state of their nails or their shoes or their hair. Teenagers with numerous studs and tattoos are written off. I can remember a well known evangelist's wife saying that she could always calculate a person's worth by the state of their finger nails! This is crass stupidity!

During my cricketing days I came across the occasional batsman who definitely looked the part - pads, boots and trousers gleaming white - sweater featuring a sporting motif - a multi-coloured cap worn at a jaunty angle. The favourable impression was maintained as the batsman took guard. If he could bat as professionally as he marked his guard Brockley would be in trouble. A batsman who looked the part never, never failed to glance searchingly round the field noting where the gaps were for his fine array of strokes. Finally his stance at the wicket wouldn't be out of place in a test match. The illusion was maintained until the first ball was bowled. That is all it took - one ball. My friend LP would look at me and grin and I would grin back. We knew that the batsman who looked the part flattered to deceive. It wouldn't be long before he was back in the pavilion.

There are plenty of religious leaders who look the part. They might have a fine appearance, a mellifluous voice and wear immaculate robes but they have little to say and what they do say lacks conviction, passion and power.

Before we judge a man or a woman by their appearance we should remember the way some of the Christians at Corinth underestimated Paul. They dismissed him with the words: "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." 2Cor10v10. Paul's influence on the church of Jesus Christ remains powerful to this day!

(2) They played the part. " ... and for a show make lengthy prayers." v47.

The Pharisees seemed to think that the longer they prayed the holier they were.

Some such still exist among the ultra reformed! Extremely pious pastors engage in long public prayers and preach even longer sermons. If they don't preach for 45 minutes or longer they reckon to have sold God short! Anyone who advocates the benefit of conciseness is branded unspiritual. Many long and tedious sermons would be improved immeasurably if cut to 20 minutes. The pace would pick up and fewer members of the congregation would lose interest.

Jesus said: "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Mt6v8.

One of the distinctive features of Jesus teaching was his ability to convey truth memorably but extremely concisely.

(3) They were men apart

The religious leaders were treated with due deference: "They like to .... be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the place of honour at banquets." v46.

The experts in the law were recognised as very important men in the community. They gloried in the respect they were afforded.

Within the church, and this applies to all denominations, there are leaders who like to be known and recognised as men of some standing. I have seen them at rallies, conferences and conventions looking for whom they know and waiting to be greeted. Such individuals love to be invited onto committees, to be consulted and to speak at special meetings.

Jesus said of the religious leaders of his day: "Such men will be punished most severely." v47.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their:

Ostentation. They were show offs with their flowing robes, long tassels and broad phylacteries. God does not like show offs! It can be so easy to show off. King Hezekiah showed off his wealth to visitors from distant Babylon. Isaiah told the king that his foolishness would contribute to the Babylonian's eagerness to sack Jerusalem. See: 2Kings20v12to21.

Vanity. The Jewish leaders rejoiced in the good opinion of others. The desire to well-thought of is a very real snare for many Christians. In my experience a great many keep quiet when some mad cap scheme is introduced at a church meeting or some illiberal policy is muted in a denominational committee to preserve the good opinion of their peers.

C.S. Lewis writes about the curse of the 'inner ring' in one of his books. In all organisations, including churches, there is the 'inner ring' of 'people who matter.' Christians who belong to those denominational 'inner rings' that exist to preserve and promote those doctrines and practices that make a denomination distinctive are extraordinarily keen to be well thought of. What a curse an 'inner ring' mentality is!

Idleness. The Jewish rabbis were not permitted to charge for teaching others. Like Paul they were expected to acquire a trade to support themselves. They were hardly dressed for work in their long robes and dangling tassels and cumbersome Scripture boxes. Some of the Pharisees acted as spiritual advisors to rich widows. They would go to the homes of these lonely, vulnerable, wealthy women to give spiritual a advice and make long prayers. The grateful widows were only too willing to make generous donations to their favourite guru. Jesus said of them: "You devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers."

I don't think there are many Christians who exploit wealthy widows today but there is no shortage of idle believers! In Britain the number of Christians who are prepared to take positions of responsibility in the church seems to be declining all the time. Young people, in particular, don't want to be tied down by a regular commitment to church work.

Greed. The Pharisees who exploited rich widows loved money. On one occasion when the Master told his hearers that they could not serve God and money Luke records: The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. Lk16v14.

Our Daily Bread for August 26th 1993 carried this item: Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography about the Duke of Willington, said, "I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches."

How we handle money reveals much about the depth of our commitment to Christ. That's why Jesus often talked about money. One-sixth of the gospels, including one out of every three parables, touches on stewardship. Jesus wasn't a fundraiser. He dealt with money matters because money matters. For some of us, though, it matters too much.

(D) The poor widow only Jesus noticed.

Perhaps it was getting near the end of the day. Jesus, tired from a hard day answering questions in the Temple, sat in the court of women watching the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. Lk21v1. Thirteen trumpet-shaped collecting boxes called, appropriately enough, The Trumpets were fixed to the wall in the Court of Women. They were narrow at the top and wider at the base. The boxes were assigned to different purposes: to buy wood for the altar, incense or to educate the children of poor families. The rich threw in their heavy coinage and how it rattled down the necks of The Trumpets. We would say in Suffolk: "It 'whully' rattled."

Then along comes a very poor widow - not one of those the Pharisees would bother with! Two words are used by Mark and Luke to describe the woman's poverty: 'peno' which means toiling each day for enough to survive on and 'ptochus' which means destitute. So this impoverished widow worked at some menial task each day for a pittance. It may have been washing clothes, sewing, cleaning or disposing of rubbish. She earned well below the minimum wage for a labouring man of 1 denarius.

This woman put 2 lepta into a collecting box - possibly the one to educate poor children. Two lepta were worth one 64th of a denarius. If a denarius was the wage of a casual labourer then in modern currency two lepta were worth about 60 to 70p. There are still people in the world who earn scarcely more than this in a day. What is even more shocking: there are folk who attend church in the West who put hardly more than this in the collection plate!

Nobody was impressed by the poor widow's gift. It didn't 'whully' rattle into the collecting box. But Jesus was impressed because the woman:

(1) Gave although she didn't have much to thank God for.

She was a destitute widow living from hand to mouth. She had an uncertain income. Even when she was in work the woman hardly earned enough to keep body and soul together.

It is not so long ago that conditions were desperately hard for widows in Britain. Last year, 2009, my old friend Dorothy Boreham died aged 98. She often used to tell me what a struggle her widowed mother had to bring up her three daughters. She took in washing. For Sunday tea Mrs Boreham would buy three eggs as a special treat for her daughters. She couldn't afford four eggs! The three little girls would each give mother a spoonful from their own egg to spread on her bread and butter.

Poverty didn't stop Mrs Boreham and her three daughters going to church! Some of the most joyful worship of the 21st century occurs in Africa amongst some of the poorest people on earth.

(2) Gave although she didn't have much to thank God with.

The widow might have concluded that it was hardly worth going to the temple to give God her two lepta. What good could 60p do.

It is easy to think like this. But if 1000 poor widows gave 6op that amounts to £600! We may consider that our prayers for the persecuted church does not amount to much - but added to 100, 1000, 10, 000 other such prayers it amounts to a great deal.

Sometimes God can take our little and do a lot with it. The widow at Zarephath only had a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug but it proved enough to last week after week after week. See: 1Kings17v7to16. A small boy gave Jesus 5 loaves and 2 small fish but it was sufficient to feed the five thousand.

Jesus actually ensured that the poor widow's 2 lepta, her 60p, inspired millions to give sacrificially.

(3) Gave because she wanted to give God something.

On Dec 27th 2002 I read the obituary of the Rev. Denis Shaw in the Daily Telegraph. In 1950 he was in charge of a train carrying refugees from East Pakistan to Calcutta. He was particularly concerned about a rather pathetic little group of a grandmother and her two orphaned grandchildren. The grandson had cholera. Denis Shaw gave them his compartment and kept the boy alive with rehydrated Robinson's Barley Water. When the train reached its destination Shaw alighted and began moving down the platform. The boy's sister ran after him calling, "Shaw Sahib, Shaw Sahib - red monkey." The girl gave Denis Shaw her only worldly possession - a painted wooden monkey. He treasured it for the rest of his life. The poor Indian girl wanted to give Denis Show something and gave the only thing she had to give.

The destitute widow was like this. She wanted to express her gratitude to God for what he had given her: life, a few happy years with her husband, health and strength and her daily sustenance meagre though it was.

The attitude of the widow puts me in mind of the poem: 'Forgive me when I whine':

          Today upon a bus,
          I saw a lovely maid with golden hair:
          I envied her - she seemed so gay,
          And how I wished I were so fair;
          When suddenly she rose to leave,
          I saw her hobble down the aisle;
          She had one foot and wore a crutch,
          But as she passed a smile.
          Oh God, forgive me when I whine,
          I have two feet - the world is mine.

          And when I stopped to buy some sweets,
          The lad who served me had such charm;
          He seemed to radiate good cheer,
          His manner was so kind and warm;
          I said, "It's nice to deal with you,
          Such courtesy I seldom find;"
          He turned and said, "Oh thank you sir."
          And then I saw that he was blind.
          Oh God, forgive me when I whine,
          I have two eyes the world, is mine.

          Then, when walking down the street,
          I saw a child with eyes of blue;
          He stood and watched the others play,
          It seemed he knew not what to do;
          I stopped a moment, then I said,
          "Why don't you join the others dear?"
          He looked ahead without a word,
          And then I knew he could not hear.
          Oh God, forgive me when I whine,
          I have two ears, the world is mine.

          With feet to take me where I'd go;
          With eyes to see the sunset's glow,
          With ears to hear what I would know.
          I am blessed indeed.
          The world is mine;
          Oh God forgive me when I whine.

(4) Gave sacrificially.

In the words of Jesus the poor widow didn't give out of her wealth but "Put in all she had to live on."

This doesn't mean the widow put in all the money she would ever possess! It signifies that she gave the only money in her possession that she had to live on that day. She gave her evening meal - perhaps, the only meal of the day, to God. She had enough money for half a cup of beans and a stale roll. 60p would still get you a meal today: a couple of bread rolls and a tin of soup or a tin of baked beans.

No one would expect the woman to give up her evening meal to God and to go hungry for 24 hours. Surely it would have been enough to give one lepta and to keep the other to purchase a little something to stave off the pangs of hunger.

The woman gave sacrificially - something most of us know little about. I gleaned this good example of sacrificial giving from the internet:

Two wealthy Christians, a lawyer and a merchant, joined a party that was going around the world. Their pastor asked them to take pictures of anything which they thought was unusual.

As they were travelling in Korea they saw a boy pulling a crude plough in a field while an old man held onto the handles. The lawyer was amused, and took a picture.

He commented to the guide, "That is an unusual sight. I suppose they are very poor."

"Yes," came the answer, "they are poor; that is the family of Chi Noui. When the church was being built in this area they wanted to give something towards it, but they had no money so they sold their only ox and gave the proceeds to the church. This spring they are taking turns to pull the plough themselves."

The lawyer said thoughtfully, "That must have been a real sacrifice!"

The guide said, "They did not call it that. They thought it was fortunate they had an ox to sell."

I am afraid very few of us give to God like those two Korean peasants. We are more likely to be numbered along with the well-to-do people of Jesus' day who gave out of their wealth. I think it exceptionally unlikely that any of us will ever give really sacrificially but at least let us not resent what we do give. We should constantly bear in mind that God will judge us not on how much we give but on how we give and how much we keep for ourselves.

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