Watch Out That You Are Not Deceived!
January 30, 2011
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Offering Of The Poor Widow
1. The first half of the section in today's scripture reading is the story of the offerings. "Jesus was sitting across from the offering box and was watching how the crowd put their money into it. A lot of very rich people were putting into it. But then, a poor widow came and she put in two copper lepton coins (λεπτα), that is, a kodrantes (κοδραντης)," (verses forty-one and forty-two). That's the text.
2. These days you don't hear it so much, but it used to be you often heard the term, "the lepta offering." "Two copper lepton coins" is found in our [New Interconfessional Version] text for today, but in The Colloquial Version that we used to use it was "two lepta coins." (When "lepton" is plural in the Greek, it becomes "lepta.") This lepton stands for a copper coin of the smallest amount which used to be in circulation way back then. That said then, we used to call an offering of small change "a lepta offering." It used to be in practice a great deal that people would stick a label with "Lepta offering" on it, and they would save their small change in it, and when they collected them, they would bring them to church. Well, you may think it is okay to call an offering of small coins "a lepta offering" because it is small change from olden times, but you may recall that every time you heard the name of that [coin] back then, you would sense that "Something is odd!"
3. As a matter of fact, something is odd. If I remember right going by this passage of scripture, the lepta were not just chump change. It was the small change which "the poor widow offered up." Furthermore, going by Jesus' statement, it was an offering in which she "put her entire living expenses that she had." So, if she [just] gave up all of her pocket money, which, for example, a small child would have, then it would be "the lepta offering" since it is small change. But, when an adult offers small change, but it is all of what he or she has, then if you ask, "Is that a lepta offering?," then no, it is not. Much rather, were we to give that a name, [it would be something like] "You must offer up all of your living expenses."
4. Thus, this passage is not one to be used to name an offering of small change. He is not merely teaching that "The amount of the offering is not an issue. Even a small offering is precious." The focus of this passage is not on "the small coin" called "the lepton." What we must consider from this passage in regard to matters of giving offerings to God lies elsewhere. There are at least two major points. First is that this is "an offering from poverty." Second is that this is "an offering from trust and confidence."
5. Jesus said, "For, all of the rich people gave monetary offerings 'while having more than enough,' but she put in 'while poor.'" There is a clear contrast here. In saying, "poor, meager, scanty," what is meant is that she "does not have enough." It means "she is lacking in even what she needs." She is in need instead. If we put it in terms of money it is very easy to understand. Some may see it by comparing their own situations with that of this poor widow. Some may see it by comparing their own situations with that of "the rich." And still others may say, "I'm more like somewhere in between the two."
6. But when you think about this, you should not expect that the phrase "while poor, out of [one's] poverty, from poverty" is always and only related to something about money. I don't think it is always true to say that an economically wealthy person never has any connection to the word "poor." There are some people who say, "I have money, but I have no time." There are some people who say, "I have both money and time, but I'm old and my physical strength is in short supply." In addition, there are some who feel that, "I'm poor in ability, I'm poor in love." Aren't there?
7. Out of [one of] these [forms of] poverty [or another], we often think, "If I were rich I could give. If I had more time, I could serve God. If I had the physical strength, if I had my youth, I could do more work [for God]. If I had more ability like that guy there, if I were filled with love like that person there, I [could] be more useful for God."
8. Yet, that widow gave [to God] "out of her poverty." It was [an offering of just] two copper coins because it was an offering [given] while she was in a state of need. This was the kind of offering where people [might] wonder, "What good was it?" It was that kind of gift. However, not thinking about whether or not the gift was useful for anything, the widow offered it up "out of her poverty, while she was destitute." It was just a little thing. A busy person may be able to offer up only two lepta's worth of time. A sick person may be able to do only two lepta's worth of stuff. But still though, Jesus says, "I surely say to you, this poor widow put in a whole lot more than anyone else." This one named Jesus sees it that way.
9. In this manner then, Jesus points to the poor widow. One reason for that is because the disciples with Jesus, who were looking at this widow, would soon be placed into the same position. Before too long they would be under persecution and they would be under various constraints, but they would offer themselves up out of their poverty and [out of that] they would come to form the church. Therefore, the imagery of "the widow" has to do with "the church." In that sense it is an image to which we must turn our attention.
10. And another thing. Jesus said the following, "For, she put in the entire living expenses that she had." The reason she put in her entire living expenses is that she was probably thinking even though I did that I'll be fine. I do not support my own day-to-day living. God sustains my life. It is an offering precisely because [one] has confidence [in God]. Isn't it?
11. Just like it is written in this text, to do something like that of offering up all of the living expenses one has is probably something pretty special. It is improbable that she repeated this same act every day. But, "the confidence in God" that we see in this special offering is not something that is formed in a brief span of time. It is something that comes out of being poor day by day, not just a day, but day after day, up to this moment you have lived in reliance and dependence upon God to the point of confidence in Him. Therefore, I suggest that the two pennies that she offered [stands for] all that she had offered up in her day-to-day practice of living one day after another, [the many days] during which she had been living in trust and confidence.
12. This was also something that the disciples had to watch closely. -- Because before too long they would get to the place where they had no offerings which did not have behind them daily lives of trust in God. For, their day-to-day faith lives would be in danger. I'd say that at that point the situations into which we are put are different [from theirs]. But the point is the same [back then and now] in that the main thing in an offering is that there be a lifestyle of trust behind it, a daily confidence [in God]. It [should be] that way whether it's our offerings of money or the offering of our selves. Even if at times we just offer up something small but yet out of our many different kinds of poverties and shortages, the main thing is that we live trusting in God day after day, as he is the one who will receive them, and also that we live with this [offering-receiving] God.
The Temple Adorned With Beautiful Stones And Votive Offerings
13. And as we go into the second half of today's biblical passage, the story continues as follows. "When certain ones were speaking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings, Jesus spoke," (verse five). The point is that even though Jesus had them take notice of the widow who offered the two lepta copper coins, all the same while the people were watching in fascination how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings. The stories are connected together in this way.
14. At any rate, the human eye turns to look in the direction [of the dazzling]. Repairs and additions were started on the temple in 20 B.C.E. by King Herod the Great. [It was] a monumental undertaking of re-building in that construction was still going on several decades later during the time of Jesus. [It was] a magnificent campus of buildings which looked like it would last into perpetuity, if ever finished. At any rate, the eye turns towards the direction of the lady. [To] the poor offering of a single widow. No matter how [her] practice of trust in God might have appeared there, it would only be the kind that looked flimsy and unreliable. As a matter of fact, upon giving the offering of all [her] living expenses, nothing is written about what happened later on. If you follow through in your thoughts in a normal fashion, it would just seem that she had a lot of problems right afterwards. The religious life she had, by looking at hers, seemed to be such an unreliable one. When it comes down to it, it was useless. Even though [Jesus] said, "She put in, out of her poverty, all the living expenses that she had," the story seemed to say, "Sigh, but it ain't jack squat." Apart from that, the great construction right before [their] eyes looked so much more important and it looked reliable. The eyes of humans are captivated by what is there before them.
15. But Jesus said about that temple, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone here will remain upon another without crumbling down," (verse six). When translated literally the expression is a bit dull, but the point is that the main stones will be completely destroyed to the degree that not one of them will be left.
16. The disciples heard this and they surely thought "What nonsense!" That massive structure must have looked like it would remain behind for ever. However, Jesus was right. In 70 C.E., the temple of Herod, who had boasted of its majestic appearance, would come to be completely and utterly destroyed by the Roman army. In fact, The Gospel According To Luke was written after it [happened].
17. But we know that all of it is not special. We know quite well that there are times when the things that seem so sure, the things that seem absolutely incollapsible collapse in a blink. It's not just buildings. In a similar manner, there are times when organized states, which have been proud of their absolute authority, [but] they come crashing down. There are also times when great companies that don't look like they can fall at all [but] they come crashing down. There are also times when institutions in society which we have thought to be absolutely secure, [but] they come crashing down. The Lord's statement that "Not one stone here will remain upon another without crumbling down" does take place in this world [of ours] in various different forms.
18. When such a collapse takes place, whether in society or in an individual life, being put into a crisis situation of something collapsing can become a major life turning point as well. It is an opportunity to look back on how you have lived your life, on what you turned your eyes, on what you pursued after, on what you trusted in. It is an opportunity to put your thoughts on what doesn't truly change, on what has value that cannot be lost. If that is true, then experiences of collapse can take on great meaning.
19. But, there are many times when in fact it is not that way. When put into a crisis, people jump at easy fixes. Following a false messiah could be [one of them]. Therefore, Jesus said, "Watch out that you are not deceived!," (verse eight). That is the title of today's sermon. The people asked him, "Rabbi, when will this take place? And when it does take place, what kind of signs will there be?" However, Jesus spoke as if ignoring their question, saying, "Watch out that you are not deceived!" [Which he warned of,] because that is much more important.
20. At crunch time, what should we do in order "not to be deceived?" What should we do in order not to be tossed about by phrases like "I'm the one," "The time has come," and the many different messages from society? The habits of how we are are important for that purpose. At crunch time, how we lived habitually will be how we will appear for sure. If we turn our eyes only on the type of temple, that is adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings, then when it has collapsed, we will want to jump at other things similar to that.
21. Thus, where should we turn our attention? It [should be on] the poor widow. The lifestyle of that widow, who offered up everything out of her poverty by trusting in God, has looked more reliable in the eyes of Jesus, than the temple made with beautiful stones. We are to build daily lives in which we live with the One who never changes, the One who never collapses. We are to build daily lives in which we live trusting in God and offering up our poor selves. Now, if we can suppose there is peace and quiet, and things are stable, it is not the crunch times but the times now in our faith life that we are to regard as important. In addition, the church is the one who is being built up by this kind of faith. Paul said in the second reading that the true temple is not a building but that, "We are the temple of the living God."