Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts on Mark

When it comes to charity, there are generally two prevailing, conflicting thoughts on the issue: we have to obey the Scriptures by giving freely and generously, but we also must be “good stewards” of our resources, discriminating between worthy and unworthy causes. The result is bitter disputes among Christians, trying to figure out what’s required of them. Should we tithe or donate to a “Christian” organization whose leadership commits terrible offenses? Should we actively prevent others from doing so? That could make things bloody! I don’t have a good answer, but I’d like to cite a case before more Christians render their judgments.

A few months ago, I tackled the Gospel of Mark (assumed to be the Apostle Peter’s perspective) and was startled by a familiar story: “The Widow’s Offering” (12:41-44). I’ve heard about the widow who gave all she had since I was four years old. I’d read the story in and out of context a million times. Yet, something struck me as rather odd: this woman gave money to an apostate temple!

Consider the broader context: After His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus Christ cleanses the temple, calling the priests and their staff of money-changers “robbers” (11:15-19). Then He continues to tell off the religious authorities in chapters 11 and 12. Jesus even warns that they parade around for the benefits while breaking the commandments to care for widows (12:38-40). After observing the generous widow, Christ then informs His disciples that the pretty-looking Herodian temple they were gushing over would be destroyed (13:1-2).

Now consider what would’ve happened today: Christians publically denounce churches and para-church organizations for not staying true to biblical doctrine. And anyone who’d dare render a tithe, offering, or donation would be chided or even harassed for their decisions to give. But Jesus Christ didn’t even try to stop the widow from giving all she had to the Lord, even though the earthly benefactors were those he constantly denounced. Maybe the heart of the one doing the supporting really does matter more than who gets supported.


  1. Jesus didn't stop the widow, but I don't think that should be taken as approval.

    A while back I was actually listening to a well known pastor speak on this passage, and another perspective was offered that actually makes quite a bit of sense from the usual interpretation in praise of sacrificial giving.

    In that, Jesus was commenting on what she did, but not necessarily praising it. The widow was actually a victim of an abusive system.
    There seems to be some consistencies to this position on multiple levels to recommend it.

    One principle is that interpretations need to have the support of other passages, and I think the support for the sacrificial giving position in this case, for this passage, may be rather weak.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jason. Yes, this widow was being abused by the system. (As I pointed out, Jesus talks about that problem right before commenting on her action.) I suppose that one might just say that Jesus was commenting rather than praising. If that's true, then exactly why was He commenting?

    As for support from other passages, there are a number of passages that discuss priorities: obeying rather than sacrificing, healing on the Sabbath, fulfilling duties to parents rather than making pledges to God, etc. When it comes to judging each others' actions, I'm merely suggesting that Christians rethink how they pick their battles.

  3. I agree that it's the person's heart that really matters. The widow's act of giving all she had is evidence that she felt strongly for what she was contributing to. Of course, she may have been misguided about where she donated her money, but she was still displaying an unselfish heart in dedication to the Lord. Perhaps Jesus used this example to communicate two things: not what you have but what you give is what the Lord counting, and you can be naive about things but still serve the Lord through your example.

  4. I agree with your last statement completely.

    But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his appearance or at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
    1 Samuel 16: 7

    So, we can give and be blessed when our reasons for giving are pure and because we want to obey. We will be blessed, even if the people or organization we are giving to is wrong, as two left feet.

    Though, there is something, I do wonder about. Some ministries have said, that when you sow a seed with them, you are sowing in good ground. Has anybody ever heard this said before?

  5. Andrew: Yeah, that's what I'm wondering. Was she really misguided in her giving?

    OI: I'm not familiar with that quote, but it's nice.


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