Then he called over his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has offered more than all of those who made offerings to the coffers. Because they may have offered a lot – but she offered all that she had, and all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)Here is the situation:
Then Jesus sat down in front of the temple offering coffers and saw how the crowd offered coins into the temple coffers. Some rich people offered large amounts. A poor widow approached and placed two small coins in – a very small amount of money. (Mark 12:41-42)
Is this like the collection plate?Today we find that sectarian churches will often pass around a plate during church in order to solicit donations. The is typically referred to as a collection plate. Putting money into a box outside the temple is a similar process.
And just as Jesus and his students could observe who put how much into the box, the collection plate provides a means for some people to put money in to impress those around them. They are figuring that putting more money into the plate equates to a greater devotion.
Jesus is contradicting that notion in his statement.
Both the collection plate and the collection box provide a similar process. This is partly a strategy of manipulation and partly a simple tool for making more money: The more public the collection plate or collection box is, the more money will be made. Making the collection process more public is a way to shame people into giving more money.
In other words, the process of collecting money in public provides a means for two abuses: First, the manipulation among the followers to impress others by offering more in public. And second, the manipulation by the institution to take advantage of this peer pressure to give more money - to the economic benefit of the leaders of the institution.
The money grab
This is precisely what Jesus was referring to in his earlier statement:
“Beware of the scribes – who like walking around in long robes receiving respect in the marketplaces. And have the important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at the feasts – yet they forcibly appropriate widows’ households and for appearances’ sake offer lengthy prayers. They will receive the greatest consequences.” (Mark 12:38-40)The problem this creates is that the institution leaders become more focused upon the economic benefits rendered by their institution. This means that institutional leaders profit more from their institution, and this puts more pressure on to glean those profits.
This, in turn, perpetuates the current state of affairs among sectarian institutions: They have made these institutions opportunities for officials and preachers to become wealthy on the backs of poor followers who feel pressured to donate more than they can afford.
Dedication, commitment and loveJesus is referring to dedication here. Making an offering to God relates to dedication. Dedication is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of devotion - devoting ourselves to God.
Jesus is clear that the amount of money offered is not the measure of devotion. Otherwise, Jesus would have praised those who put in more money. He would have said that the more money you give, the more devotion you have.
Rather, Jesus is speaking of the widow's devotion because she offered money that she needed to feed herself. She decided it was more important to give that money to the temple than to use it to buy food.
This sort of dedication is beyond most of us. We have little access to this devotional position because our hearts are hard. We are focused on ourselves. We are focused on our body's survival. We are focused on what others think of us. We are focused on our careers, our family, our house, our car. These are the things that concern us the most. And these are the things our lives are focused on.
This woman's actions provided a teaching moment to Jesus because he was showing his students the meaning of dedication. Dedication means commitment and commitment means giving of oneself regardless of our limitations or barriers.
Dedication relates to caring about the Supreme Being and others more than we care about ourselves.
This is also the central doctrine of Jesus. Loving devotion to God was his central message and his purpose for descending to the earth. This is illustrated by most important instruction:
“The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Mark 12:29-30)