And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)
Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money. While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.
We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)
Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:
But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)
So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”
The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”
We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short. Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin. As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.
We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ. We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty. Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of. He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.
This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus. Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us. He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law. He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)
That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love. In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.