God Watches

(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Mark 12
41 Jesus 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 fraction of a penny.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, 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.”

God watches.
He does it with a curious divine interest.
God sits, waits, watches, people, old people and young people, male and female, coloured and Caucasian, step by, some in their shorts, some in their suits, some in their long robs - on their way to the offering plate.

Jesus sat down to watch 2000 years ago. This was for God a customary position, God watching what is going on in his world, paying close attention to goings and comings at day and night, he neither slumbers nor sleeps, nor is his attention ever distracted. Jesus sat down to do the work of his Father - watching and this time he choose to sit in the temple to watch what people would do there. He was not just watching actions, he was watching attitudes, smiles, gestures, listening to noises, conversation, the slight pause for attention, the significance people received from their actions. God watches...

And to do that, he sat right across from the collection plates. There were, we understand thirteen of them, some of them for alms, some for temple ministries, and other simply for ministry expenses such as offerings. They were made of bronze, their mouths shaped like a trumpet going down to a bronze box designed to hold change - lots of loose change.

Jesus sat opposite these 13 collection bins and just watched.

Crowds came by. This was no 5 minute activity, it took the time of patient watching as person after person came forward, every individual detail noticed.

God watched.

God listened to them, placing their coins into the trumpets that blasted out the sound of their gift in a rattling chatter of coins falling down the tube. The bigger the coins, the greater number of coins, the louder the clutter of coinage, and in the measurement of most who heard, the sounds meant “cha-ching.” for the temple.

God watched, Jesus did the work of his Father in heaven - watching.
God listened, Jesus did the work of his Father in heaven - listening.

People in brightly coloured robs came and started placing large coin after large coin in the different collection trumpets. Certainly, the place was a cacophony of coins dropping down these throats that proclaimed the deed. Some took time to drop coin after coin, others dropped large amounts of coins at once knowing the sound would draw attention. God watched and listened as the temple treasury grew in size.

Into the temple walked a women, her clothing betraying her poverty, her status in community showing she was cursed, an outsider, a widow without status, without support, by herself, alone and lonely. We don’t know her storied pain. How did she lose her husband? How did she make it through her grief day after day? How did she now make ends meet with the main source of her income gone, her inheritance gone with her husband? Did she have children to care for? This picture at least suggests so. In truth though, we do not know.

But God was watching.
God was listening.

She came into the temple. The crowds did not pay her attention. Her looks, her clothing had little beauty to attract us to her. But she too came to worship, while God was watching and listening. Entering into the court of women, as far as she had the right to enter, where the receptacles for money were, she came to give her offering. She came as a contrast. It seemed generally that the poor did not come in here. There gifts were hardly worth giving. There was no gain to be gotten by giving the little that they had. But she came in... and in one quick, almost embarrassed act, she tossed in two thin tiny coins hardly worth a meal, hardly worth giving to Herod’s massive temple complex with its gold leaf coverings and golden utensils by the massive bronze temple gate called Beautiful. She did not fit in. Her presence belonged outside. But she came, quickly, quietly throwing in her two small coins. Almost nobody noticed as she quickly withdrew, withdrew into the crowd, retreated to the outside where the outcasts were. It seemed no one saw her, and certainly no one heard the virtually silent tinkle of her tiny coins dropping in the box.

But God was watching, he saw what was going on.
God was listening, and the sound of those two coins resonated through heaven itself.
God noticed.

And God wanted his disciples to notice.
So Jesus called his disciples to himself from their distracted lives and busied conversations.

Jesus highlighted this one widow, now hard to discern in the milling crowd. “I tell you the truth” he said. I tell you the truth, truth that was universally true, true for the Jew and the disciple of Christ, true for the modern and the post modern, this is a truth that transcends cultures and time. Truth that must be acknowledged across culture and time.
“This widow put more into the treasury than all the others.”
“This widow put more into the treasury than all the others.”
“This widow put more into the treasury than all the others.”
How did Jesus see that? How did he hear that her gift was that much greater? What perspective did he have that no other had?

He had the perspective of the God who watches and listens. For God’s watching and listening does not just occur in the temple in front of the offering plate, God’s watching and listening occurs every day, every hour, every moment, in homes, in bedrooms, in kitchens, in work places, in our interactions with others and in our quiet interactions with God.. God was watching this widow’s life, her struggles, her loneliness, her quiet empty home, her grief, her empty cupboards, God saw. God listened to her cries, he longings, her prayers. God understood. And when she came to the temple, God had seen her journey, God knew her choices, God saw the two tiny coins that thunderously rumbled down the throat of the temple offering receptacles. God saw, God heard and God measured

God measured, not by how much was given,
God measured, not by the weight of the coins.
God measured, not by the clatter of their numbers.
God measured, not by the attention the gift got in the temple.
God measured by how much was left over after the gift was given.

God watches
God listens
God measures

Like so many of Jesus actions and stories, this one is also a two edged sword.

This story tells me and you that our lives are being measured, measured to see what fruit the sacrifice of Christ is bearing in our lives. For God sees not only what we give, he sees equally what we do not give. He compares the offering plate with what we spend on movies, on games, on coffees and dinners out, he compares the offering plate with the material leftovers that we keep for ourselves, he compares what we give with what we keep and measures the value of our gift by the comparison. You see, God sees what we spend our money on, God sees by our spending habits where our values are, and he measures us by what we choose not to give. In this story, Jesus redefines sacrificial giving in a way that forces every one of us to examine our own giving, our own trust in God, our own faith that he will provide, our own thankfulness for what he has done. And he measures us by what we hold back and keep for ourselves. Do you hear God speaking to you?

At the same time this story is filled with incredible marvellous grace. For it tells us that God sees, God hears and God’s measurements are filled with justice.

We’re not told a lot about this widow, but obviously her life was filled with difficulty. This was the last of her resources, she was giving away her next meal and maybe also the meal of her children. Certainly in her grief, in her poverty she cried out to God and wondered why things had happened the way they did. Pain, poverty, loneliness, desperation, in that culture, victimization was her story. But this story tells us that God sees. God watches. God understands our struggles, our stories. We are not alone, without God in this world. God sees our homes, our lives, in his grace, his watchful caring eyes are upon us. He listens to our voices, he hears how we talk to each other, he follows the words we use, even the words we think. What no one else sees, he watches. What no one else hears, he listens to, he is attentive to our cries. And he measures us with a perfect justice, justice that sees all, knows all and has especially in sight the justice accomplished on the cross where forgiveness is given.

How is this story, a two edged sword speaking to you?
Let them who hear hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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