July 21 – Mark 12:41-44

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Main focus: Generosity shaped by the Kingdom is honored by the King.

For week 2 of Jesus & Money we’ll be looking at the story of the Widow’s Mite (which is not about an insect, FYI). In it we’ll see what Jesus has to say about generosity, what we could call Kingdom Generosity, which is informed not by earthly economies of luxury and human attention but by Christ’s value system of faithfulness.

In Mark 12 we find Jesus camped out by the offering box in the temple (perhaps a chest with a hole drilled in the top; cf. 2 Chronicles 24:8). There he sees a poor widow perform a remarkable deed of faith, giving all she had to live on in the form of two halfpennies, roughly a day’s wage (a Greek penny was a lepton; in King James-era England this coin was called a mite, thus “the Widow’s Mite” was the title of this story in the KJV). In today’s terms this would be like her last $50. In Jesus’s estimation she gave more generously than all the other people who were putting their excess money in the offering box.

He’s referencing especially the scribes and Pharisees, who he was speaking about in the verses prior. Of the many complaints Jesus had about the Pharisees—their treatment of the poor, their ignorance of the ways of God, their hypocrisy, etc.—Jesus often pointed out their performative religiosity. He talks about them making long-winded prayers in public (Mark 12:40), sounding a trumpet when they gave to the poor (Matt 6:2), and putting on a good show when they were fasting (Matt 6:16).

In those critiques of the Pharisees, Jesus often praises what is less visually evident, the inward secret practice of generosity. For example, when Jesus tells us not to pray publicly in pompous ways, he tells us instead to “pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6). The way the widow puts in her offering it’s as if no one but Jesus notices her, and thus Jesus praises her for her faithfulness and generosity.

That’s the space that Jesus talks about when it comes to money, not the public sphere but the inner, private sphere where greed and fear of man takes root. For that reason you’ll notice our questions this week focus on generosity, not money, just like we talked about allegiance last week. The primary point here isn’t money but our willingness to let go of money (or to make it let go of us).

We’ll turn in discussion to 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 to see another example of giving out of lack, which ideally will help us see this more as a pattern for God’s people. There Paul talks about the churches in Macedonia giving to support the saints in Jerusalem, who had suffered intense persecution for their faith (see Acts 8). He describes the Macedonians as experiencing “extreme poverty,” and yet they gave abundantly, “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” They were literally asking for the privilege of giving to others.

And Paul roots this not in them being super Christians but in God’s work in their life; he starts by attributing it to God’s grace given among the churches (8:1) and then points to the example we have in the incarnation of Christ (8:9). All this is a work of God, but ideally these two passages show this is not an extra-credit sort of work that God does in some more advanced Christians but a work he intends to do more broadly within his people. This is the will of God for us, that we would follow Jesus quite literally in emptying ourselves that we might find exaltation in God, not in material possessions (“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” Phil 2:5-11). We’ll conclude by talking about how this will of God could be manifest in our lives, what it might look like for us to live like this widow or the Macedonian Christians.

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Mark 12:41-44?

– What stood out to you in the passage?

– What do you think Jesus is telling us about generosity here?

– Could someone read 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 for us?

– What does Paul say about the Macedonians and their generosity?

– Look at verse 9—how do you think Jesus’s life can inform our generosity?

– What might it look like for you to live like the widow or the Macedonians?

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