Poor Widow vs. Rich Young Ruler
A group of us have been studying Mark’s gospel, preparing to teach it this Fall. This week we come to Chapter 12 and the well-known story of the poor widow who put two small copper coins into the temple treasury. The story is familiar and yet it still shocks us. We expect Jesus to gently stop the poor old woman by saying something like, “Trust me dear, you need this more than they do.” After all, the spiritual leaders of the day are corrupt. Jesus had just confronted them for turning the temple into a den of robbers. We can’t think of any justifiable, responsible reason for this poor widow to give her entire livelihood, to the temple treasury. We’re surprised that Jesus accepts it and bothered that he holds her actions up as commendable.
On the surface this looks like a fulfillment of what Jesus says in Mark 12:38-40 “Beware the scribes…who devour widows’ houses…”. But this is not and cannot be reduced to just a financial transaction. Instead, this is an act of worship. This woman is putting legs to the spiritual truth that must already be well rehearsed in her mind and heart. She is, in effect, living out what she already knows to be true and that is: “Lord, I have become entirely your responsibility.” “Lord, you are my rock and my provider.” “Lord my faith and trust are in you alone.”
What a wonderful example of faith! What an appropriate act of worship! What a clear illustration of salvation! Still, we have objections. This seems extreme; surely God is more practical about these matters. He doesn’t want me to sell everything and give to the poor and follow him, right?
For the rich young ruler in Mark 10 that is exactly what Jesus required. “One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21) Unlike the poor widow, the young man was hanging on to his “stuff” so tightly that he could not be free to follow Christ. His wealth prevented him from trusting Christ, it prevented him from worshiping Christ, and it prevented him from being saved.
One question that we have started to ask ourselves at our Tuesday night Bible study is, “What is it, right now, that is preventing me from going with God?” For the rich young ruler, it was his wealth. For the poor widow, it was nothing, she was all in. The young man went away sad, the poor widow went away saved.
Living out truth in sacrificial worship is so good for us. It brings clarity and strengthens our faith and resolve. Our actions preach the gospel to our souls in ways that mere words never can. Our actions preach the gospel to those watching in ways that mere words never can. So, by faith let’s give generously and sacrificially, even when it doesn’t make sense. Let’s testify by our actions the truths we profess in the gospel. Let’s joyfully meet pressing needs by faith knowing “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).
“That in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” – 2 Corinthians 8:2-5