Our reading today continues to focus our attention on the much-loved god in our midst, mammon. It may escape the attention of many but Jesus actually had quite a lot to say about Mammon. This is an excellent cue for us as we examine the state of the church. Let us use some of his teachings and warnings about mammon in an attempt here to safeguard His church from her tentacles.
Mark’s record of Jesus turning the spotlight on the offertory is our text. Mark 12: 41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Jesus made his assessment after deliberate and repeated observation of the people who passed to make their offering. His intense scrutiny revealed that there were those who were rich, very rich and they dropped in large sums, in excess of the tithe and temple tax. He also observed a destitute woman. She is described with a double-barreled negative, “poor widow”. Mark juxtaposes the rich, very rich with the poor widow in abject poverty, referring to one who is in imminent danger of real starvation. If we go back for a minute to Jesus cleansing of the temple from which we exposed the church’s frolic in the bed of mammon the conduct of the temple leaders becomes even more repugnant. For it is this kind of poor who were being extorted by the money changers. The money changers would have been among the very rich, and it is documented that quite often the money changers were themselves Levites. In other words, it was the priestly family robbing the poor with their price gouging and exchange levies.
The total value of the two coins the widow placed in the
Treasury was that of the smallest Roman coin. Yet Jesus declared that she had put in more than all the others who had thrown in their large sums. Obviously, Jesus is employing a different brand of Mathematics. He is teaching Kingdom Math. Whereas the ones who gave their large sums did so out of their even larger store of wealth, costing them nothing, the widow gave out of her nothingness, she gave her all. This bears a striking resemblance to the Widow of Zarephath who was willing to use the last meal and oil she had to prepare a meal for Elijah. God rewarded that widow with an abundant supply which benefitted the entire community. Here Jesus honours the faith, gratitude and surrender of this widow. Her actions here set for us the attitude that we must have towards Mammon. Her actions set for us the antidote for Mammon clutches. Money must serve us and not the converse. Her actions demonstrate her conviction that God is her source. This is precisely why Paul teaches that one should take time to contemplate, and I dare say prayerfully contemplate as an act of worship what amount they would contribute as their offering. Here is the admonition set out in 2 Cor. 9: Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
A sure sign that one is under Mammon’s grip is when one grudgingly takes their offering. Could it be that those who persist in asking whether one should tithe on their gross or net salary is in danger of covetousness? Another clear sign of danger is when church leaders covertly or overtly utilize scare and manipulative tactics that drive worshippers to compulsive giving.
I believe with all my heart that Jesus wanted to safeguard his people from mammon’s reach. Let’s do a quick survey of some specifics in this regard. Hear him in Luke 12 making a passionate appeal to His disciples to watch out for greed covetousness. Then this one which many of us know very well, perhaps the best known rhetorical question in the Bible, what shall it profit a person to gain the world and lose their soul? The here and now, seemingly unable to delay gratification millennials will of course, dismiss this question or at least attempt to do so because they are being brainwashed by phrases such as “You only live once,” “get rich or die trying,” “me want a million dollars by a mawnin” (I want a million dollars by tomorrow morning), “live for now” and “floss like a boss.” Let us insert the caution here that those who lose sight of the ultimate become slaves to the immediate. Money has proven to be one of those motivations which cause persons to set aside their so-called deeply held values and belief in the pursuance of it. It would be also instructive for us to remind ourselves that there is an appointment we all have with death and later with God, as judge, as per Hebrews 9: 27.
Jesus continues to make the point of the strong influence that mammon has on the human heart., to the extent that it affects where one’s eternal focus lies. He does this as part of the Sermon on the Mount when he addresses where and how we should invest. Matt. 6: 19 – 21 reads “19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Suffice it to say, Jesus is not rejecting the notion of setting aside savings. Proverbs, in particular, is filled with wise advice on the importance of saving for the rainy day. He is striking out against the practice of hoarding money and material. The kind of thing that betrays greed, selfishness, and apathy buried in a person’s heart. Wherever one’s treasure is there will their heart be and conversely where one’s heart is there their treasure will be.
It is only as we embrace and inculcate practices such as the Jubilee release, the Spirit led communism of Acts 2: 42 and the example of the Macedonian church in Acts 8 and 9 that we will begin to rid our churches of the virus called Mammon. Who’s ready for the vaccine?
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