Mark 12 shows us an interesting back-and-forth between the Pharisees and the Sadducees trying to trick Jesus into answering their questions in a way that they could arrest Him. Jesus answers their questions masterfully, revealing to them the harsh truth of their own selfish desires, while also not saying anything they could trap Him and arrest Him with. After this back-and-forth exchange, Jesus gives a warning to the others at the temple listening to His teaching.
In verses 38-39, Jesus says, “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. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.”
Jesus wasn’t afraid of addressing the sinful nature of the religious leaders in that day. He spoke to the outward expressions of their internal selfish desires. The religious leaders would wear flowing robes to attract the attention of those around them. This tactic may have fooled their followers, but it didn’t fool Jesus. He knew and addressed the attitude the religious leaders showed by wearing their fancy attire to be noticed by the people around them.
Not only did Jesus address their attire, he addressed their behavior as well. He says that the religious leaders enjoyed receiving greetings when they walked in the marketplaces. This wasn’t to deter the greeting of others but a warning to the religious leaders who enjoyed making a spectacle of themselves for other people’s recognition and attention.
Jesus goes on to say how the Pharisees loved seats of honor and to be at the head of the table at banquets. The religious leaders used “church” as a place to show off and enhance their own social status. Each one of these statements pointed to the selfish motives and desires the religious leaders had to gain attention and respect from others.
Now if you’re like me and are honest with yourself today, you’ll recognize we all have that internal desire to be recognized. We want people to like us and give us praise. Each of us need to be careful with that desire, however. We should live in such a way that deflects praise from others to God. We should strive to live our lives for the glory of God, rather than ourselves.
In verse 40 Jesus addresses the religious leaders’ actions by saying, “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”. The religious leaders weren’t only puffing up their own image in the public eye, but they were also getting rich off the backs of the poor. They made their money from the generosity of people since they didn’t have a salary. But this system was broken because the religious leaders would take advantage of widows who were willing to help those who they believed to be men of God. They would give amounts they couldn’t afford, and the religious leaders would profit off of them.
I want you to see the stark contrast in attitude of the religious leaders and the widow’s offering in verses 41-44. In this passage, we see that Jesus is sitting near the offering collection box in the temple and watching the people as they dropped in their money. The scripture says that many rich people put in their large amounts, making a show of it by making sure everybody saw and heard how much they were putting in. Since coins were the primary currency in that day, many rich people would drop in many coins and make it as loud as possible while doing so, so that other people would notice.
But then in verse 42, we see that a poor widow came and dropped two small coins into the collection box. Jesus gathers His disciples and says that the widow who only gave two small coins gave more than all the others because she gave everything she had to live on. This widow, even though giving an amount equal to the smallest Roman currency, gave more than those who gave large amounts. The disciples and anybody close enough to hear Jesus’s words would’ve been shocked and confused by this statement.
What Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us today, is that generosity isn’t measured by amount but rather by motive. The religious leaders and the rich people were giving large amounts out of their surplus, to be seen and recognized by others. While the poor widow gave out of her need, in faith, all that she had to live on. That’s the type of sacrifice that we’re called to make today.
This principle goes beyond our financial giving though. This type of sacrifice is meant to apply to our everyday life and service to those around us. When you and I are willing to sacrifice everything and trust God with the outcome, our faith grows in a way that the religious leaders and rich of that time never experienced. I want to challenge you today – whether that be in your financial giving, or your everyday life – to give all that you have and watch God bless you for it.