So often, Jesus is seen responding to questions and attacks by the Jewish Religious leaders. In today’s stories, Jesus takes the lead by proposing His own conundrum and then by noting problems with the scribes and their lust for attention. He then reacts to a womam who gives from the heart, and not for the attention.
35. And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? 36. For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. 37. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
Jesus asked the tough question this time. The theological belief is that the Messiah would be the Son of David. Jesus forced them to realize that taking that literally would cause problems, since David called the Messiah, “Lord.” Why would David call his son, “Lord?” It was the kind of conundrum that the religious leaders might bring to Jesus. So let’s examine what’s meant by the idea of the Messiah and how this all works together. Why would Jesus be making this point.
When Jesus asked this question, realize that while many among the common people were recognizing Him as Messiah, the religious leaders wouldn’t do that. Their belief was that the Messiah had to be of the lineage of David. Jesus, with His questionable lineage, would automatically be excluded. While we see the connection in the books of Matthew and Luke, the Jews at that time didn’t have those lineages available and all they knew was that Jesus was born in questionable circumstances. Because of this, there was an undercurrent of criticism of Jesus because He wasn’t from the line of David, or so they thought. Jesus’ question made them examine their prejudices. If the Messiah was going to be David’s literal son, or in the lineage, why would David honor his son above himself?
The point Jesus was making was that if the Messiah was that kind of family, their relationship would demonstrate a form of equality based on kinship. He was, in a sense, making a case for being equal with God the Father since He was the Son of God. He also didn’t seek to put Himself above God the Father, but He was putting Himself on equal footing.
It should also be noted that when someone talks about the “son of” something, they are saying that the son is just like the original. We use that type of phrasing today, usually in not so nice ways, to describe people. Rather than insulting them personally, we put them in the same family lineage as the object, thus making them equal to the person or thing of comparison.
Getting back to the story, the common people loved it when Jesus made the Pharisees squirm with the same type of question that He was getting from them. I can’t help but think that while the Pharisees were respected by the people for their religious “rightness,” the common people were happy to see them brought down a notch or two because of their religious smugness.
38. And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, 39. And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: 40. Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
Jesus didn’t let up. As He taught, He warned the people against the actions of the scribes who loved to draw attention to themselves for their supposed piety. They loved it when the “little people” paid homage to them in the marketplaces, deferred to them in the synagogues, and recognized their rightful places at the feasts. At the same time, these super pious scribes, who said the longest, and perhaps even the most beautiful prayers showed their hypocrisy by taking everything away from those widows who had no one to help them. Whereas charity and a relationship with God would see them working for a way to help these widows, instead, they were oppressing and taking advantage of them. Jesus noted that because of their overt piety which made them bigger hypocrites, they would receive a greater condemnation.
41. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 44. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. So, let’s set the scene based on my understanding of the history. Rather than passing an offering plate, people would give their monetary offerings for the Temple by tossing their coins in a large trumpet like apparatus designed to catch them and funnel them to a box that contained all the offerings. When people gave, the more noise they generated was supposed to mean, the more they gave. Today’s evangelists will remind people that they want the offerings that don’t make noise (bills, preferably large ones) but the people of that day didn’t have paper money, it was all coin. Here’s the deal: what makes more noise – a one dollar coin or one hundred pennies? Silly question, right. But if you gave the smallest denomination coins you had, you’d get more noise for your buck.
With this background, subject to change if I’m wrong, as the people line up to give their offerings, it was a noisy place. Then along came this widow, and the noise stopped as she threw in her two coins. From the quick research I did, the assumption is that she threw in two of the smallest coins available, and together they would be worth about 12 minutes of work back in those days. The comments of Jesus are, I believe, a commendation of this widow whose gift, though small in gold standards, was huge in human standards. She gave out of a desire to give to God no matter what the sacrifice might be for her, while others gave extra money they had laying around.
We should note that Jesus wasn’t condemning those who gave large gifts for the work and upkeep of the Temple. He was condemning the showy nature of some who gave gifts. Their gifts may not have been that large, but they found ways to make their gifts appear to be much more. Jesus was, instead, commending an attitude of giving that was based on faith and sacrifice.
One of the reasons why I love this story is that I have had the privilege of serving on our church’s finance committee, and part of our duties include counting money. I’ve seen some big checks from generous donors who would never want their names publicized. Those that I’ve known personally are grateful for how God has blessed them and they give cheerfully, from the heart. At the same time, I’ve seen some donations that, while not much in terms of money, were huge in terms of their heart for God. Again, not mentioning any names for the same reason, but people who have asked for prayer for their financial needs who still wanted to support God’s work because of their love for Him; people who haven’t asked for help, but you know are dealing with financial challenges and are giving far more than they can. Those big gifts bring a smile to my face, because they are so needed for the worthy work our church is doing. Those smaller gifts bring tears to my eyes as I recognize the sacrifice they represent. I’ve got to tell you that I say a special prayer of thanksgiving for those gifts while asking God to continue to provide for them with great blessings.