Jesus’ teaching refocuses our attention to what should be important in life. Too often we allow the riches and treasures of this world to consume our thoughts and actions. We come to believe, even those of us in the church, that the most important thing is making a name for ourselves and receiving praise from others. The scribes were not bad people. They were not heathens living lives that directly disobeyed the commandments. In fact, they were part of the organized church and were religious leaders of the day. But the scribes lost focus and began to find significance in egofilling activities among the people. Jesus condemns them and states that they devour the most helpless and hopeless of society. The church, and the leadership thereof, must always be careful not to fall into this trap of egocentrism.
The good news of this text is that Jesus then gives guidance as to how one might remember what the correct focus of life is and how we might store up treasure in heaven. Put in twenty-first-century terms, Jesus sits down and watches the morning collection plate pass down the aisle, and he notices a women sitting at the end of a pew. She really does not fit into the affluent congregation in this particular city, and she seems a bit out of place. What is amazing about this woman is that she does not seem to notice that she does not fit in with the crowd around her. She is there to worship, and her eyes, heart, and spirit are focused only on God. When the offering plate passes by her side, she might have noticed that the plate itself probably cost more than she made all week, but she faithfully puts all that she has into the plate, out of worship for God.
Giving must be an act of worship, and worship must involve the giving of ourselves to God. The story of the poor widow is in many ways a tragedy, because the one the church should have been helping is putting everything that she has into an organization that has leaders who “devour widows’ houses;” but in another way, this is a story of worship. This is a story that reminds us that the institution and the society can never determine our path of worship. Worship must be about our total devotion and trust given to God, who has first given everything to us. A time set aside for worship is really about stewardship. Stewardship of what God has given to us and how we can best put those gifts to use by giving them back to God through worship.
In the truest form of worship, we follow the example of the poor widow by giving our all to God. This is why there should never be a worship service where two or more are gathered when voices are not raised to God in praise. This is why there should not be financial struggles within the ministry of God. This is why all persons should feel welcome inside the church, because the church is not about us, it is about us pouring ourselves out before God. Emptying ourselves of everything the world has to offer and giving back to God what is rightfully God’s. God does not demand that we give one hundred percent of our earnings back, like the widow in Mark’s account did; but God does show that we should be giving enough back to God that we become totally dependent on God’s grace, and not our own abilities.
Perhaps the greatest act of worship I have been privileged to see came from a humble woman who wandered into the church building late one Thursday afternoon, in the middle of a very hot August. She came in quietly and hardly made herself known. She wandered into the sanctuary and, I found out later, prayed there for quite some time. At the end of her prayer, she placed something on the communion table and walked out of the building. When I found the envelope later that evening, I read the short note attached to a five dollar bill that said, “Thank you, God, for giving me so much in life. I have enough to eat today, I have a roof over my head tonight, and I think I will have a place to work in the morning. I hope this money can help another find the same goodness that I have found.” There was no signature at the end of the note, and I had not seen the women long enough to know if I recognized her; but a church member told me later that as he was serving breakfast at the local night shelter, he had had an interesting conversation with a nice young women who told him that she felt very close to God. He asked her why she felt so close to God, especially in her difficult situation, without a home or much to live on. She went on to tell the church member a story about how she was able to give back to God by putting a little money in an envelope at the church just down the street, because God had first given it to her. She stated that it was the single most rewarding experience of her life, to be able to give back to God for all of the protection and goodness God had given her.
Too often we do not see the goodness that God has given to us, and like the scribes, we become a bit self-absorbed. The good news of Jesus Christ is that no matter who we are and no matter what our life situation might be, we have been given love and grace that we can offer back to God in worship. Even when there is no monetary value to what we are giving, God knows it is valuable, and like Jesus’ reaction to the poor widow, our gift of true worship will be seen as very precious in the sight of God.