There’s a story in the Bible that I love.
It’s a short little story, but don’t confuse short with small. It’s not a small story. It may not take up much space in ink and paper, but it’s worth making room for in your heart, and it’s a good place for us to start.
You can find the story in Mark chapter 12:41-44. It’s just 4 little verses with a big message. But before we get too far, let’s rewind the tape just a little. It turns out the context is as important as the story, because what Jesus does in those 4 verses says a lot about what He’s really up to.
You see, Jesus has just come to Jerusalem a few days ago, on what we now call Palm Sunday, and for the past 2 days He’s been traveling back and forth from Bethany, where He likely stayed with His friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus. That would be the Lazarus that He has just recently raised from the dead. Yeah, that guy.
Now, Jesus is traveling back and forth, teaching in the temple and confronting the religious leaders, knowing full well that He is headed on a collision course with the very people who would have him crucified in just days. I wonder if we can imagine the burden of what was coming, the burden weighing more and more on His every step. I wonder if we can imagine the exhaustion that had started to set in as He taught in the Temple that day.
Which brings us to Mark 12:41, where we read that “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.” A few quick thoughts: first, this isn’t a story about money. You may have heard it preached about money before, and that’s fine, but I think that if you read this story as being about money, you’re missing a bunch of really cool stuff that God wants us to notice.
Second, it says Jesus sat down. He sits down in the middle of what was called the “court of women,” which simply meant He was in the smaller of courtyards that were outside the temple buildings, where both men and women were allowed. It was here that the boxes were placed for people to bring their offerings. It was also in this court that most of the public transactions took place, since it was open to all Jews. Bottom line, it was a busy place.
I imagine Jesus walking across the courtyard, where He finds a place on the stone floor, against the stone wall. He sits down and the scripture tells us “He watched the crowd.” Jesus is people watching.
I used to travel a lot for work. It wasn’t uncommon for me to fly 3 or 4 times a month, and I spent a lot of time in airports. One of my favorite things about airports are the people. I know I lost a lot of you at “favorite things about airports,” but follow me for a minute. I promise I’ll get somewhere worthwhile.
I’d often sit near the gate, waiting for the plane, as people would pour past, one after another. A mom and dad, with their two little ones pulling their Mickey Mouse carry on suitcases, headed off on their first adventure to Disney World. An older couple, with passports in hand, leaving on a post-retirement world excursion. Young professional men and women in business attire, hurrying here and there, with faces buried in their phones. Each and every one had a story, and I don’t know why, but I was always captured by the idea of each unique story.
I wonder if that’s perhaps what Jesus was thinking as He sat and “watched the crowd.” I wonder if perhaps He was thinking through each of their stories, each person He had come to save. Each story that would change for eternity as a result of His purpose and mission here on earth. Of course, He actually knew their stories - which is of course the point, and where it gets interesting.
As Jesus sat, He watches “many rich people” throwing in large amounts. I wonder what He was really thinking as they make a scene of it all. I wonder if it made Him angry, or if perhaps He was just too tired of it all. I wonder what He was thinking as He watched so many of them miss the point. It, of course wasn’t about the amount of money, or the show. It was, as it always is with Jesus, about the heart.
I wonder what He was thinking, when out of the corner of His eye, He notices a quiet, elderly woman moving slowly across the courtyard towards the collection boxes. In the midst of the busy crowd, she surely stood out. Her gait was slower, her posture lower. She moved deliberately, but not for show. She makes her way to the boxes, and as she does - Jesus does something I love.
In verse 43, it says that Jesus calls His disciples over. He’s been sitting and watching along, but He doesn’t want them to miss this. He wants to be sure they get it. “I tell you the truth,” He says to them, “this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” And just to clarify the point for them, I love the way He continues in the Message translation: "All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”
When I was younger, I wanted to go to space camp. It’s this really cool place in Huntsville, AL that kids go and learn about being an astronaut. I used to have the brochure, and I couldn’t wait to become a space cadet.
I was totally into space, and NASA, and I remember once reading that when they were first figuring out how to send a man to the moon, there was a slogan, “to the moon or bust.” I imagine that slogan plastered on posters, and signs, and coffee mugs and buttons, reminding people that failure was not an option. Whatever they did, had to work, because there are no lifeboats on a rocket ship. There was no room for a plan “b.”
As Jesus watched that elderly widow walk across the courtyard, and put her two coins in the offering box, I think that the thing that caught His eye, was the giant button on her clothes that read “Jesus or Bust.” You see, this elderly widow had no plan B. It wasn’t just that she was obedient to God, that she had made Him her plan A. She gave her all, everything she had. She held nothing back for herself - no plan B just in case God didn’t come through.
Most of us are like the wealthy people. We make a show of our “faith,” sure to do all the right things, especially when someone is watching. We make sure that our “faith” looks good, but in reality, it doesn’t take much faith to follow Jesus on Sunday, or at church, or when things are going great. But if you’re a poor elderly widow with nothing… literally nothing, it takes faith to give all you have and trust that God has it under control. It takes faith to let go, and hold nothing back.
I think this is what Jesus wanted the disciples to see. I think this was the big picture He wanted to impress on them. He knew that in just a few days He’d be leaving them, and while they had certainly been following Him - they had made Him plan A - He wanted to be sure they remembered the example of faith and obedience of this poor widow. He wanted them to eliminate plan B, and live a “Jesus or bust” kind of life.
I think that’s exactly what He wants for us. I know that it was easy to make Jesus my plan A, but getting rid of my own plan B was the really hard part. Letting go of my plans and my agenda is where things really get hard for me. But faith isn’t just about making Jesus plan A, it’s about eliminating plan B. It’s about living for Jesus or bust.