“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box” (Mark 12:41a).
We must not gloss over this sentence. He took time to sit and to watch people. My father was like that—to give Mom time to go shop, he would sit on a bench and just watch the people. I enjoy doing that when I’m at an airport. But Jesus did not sit just to people watch, he was on a heart watch, checking people’s MO.
The treasury consisted of thirteen brass treasure chests called trumpets, due to their shape—narrow at the top, large at the bottom. According to the Mishnah, each of these chests had a description of what these offerings were for: “Old Shekel dues,” “bird offerings,” “Young birds for the whole offering,’ ‘Wood,’ ‘Frankincense,’ ‘Gold for the Mercy Seat,’ and on six of them, ‘Freewill Offerings.” So during the Passover time, when Jerusalem and the Temple were bustling with people, this area grew noisy with the din of shekels clanging into the brass chests. The longer and the bigger the noise, the more attention it likely drew.
He would watch them, not only the amount they gave, but their body language and betrayed the motive in which they gave it. This especially interested Jesus, but on a more fundamental level: many seemed to believe they were giving their money to God, therefore God should be pleased with the fact!
Yet, Jesus had set up number of truths and principles from other encounters he had, just prior to this incident at the treasury.
In Mark 12:13-17, a lawyer came to trap him, bring to him an image of a coin. The question—“Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Either way he went, he would lose credibility. He asks who’s image is on the coin. “Caesar’s.” “Render unto Caesar… render unto God.” It hinges on the image. Kent Hughes notes that we are made in God’s mint, with His image imprinted on us. We belong to Him and all that we do and all we have is under his rule.
Later, a teacher came to Jesus and asked him what is the greatest commandment? “Love God with all you have, love neighbor as self.” In other words, we love God with all we are, and all we have. The scribe was impressed, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
We belong to Him, and all we have. When we understand from Psalm 24:1 that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” we agree with Abraham Kuyper who, at his inaugural address at the dedication of Free University, said: “”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”
But the kicker was in Mark 12:38-40:
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Widows, who had very little cultural standing nor legal recourse, had very few options in which to make money. That, coupled with the fact that the scribes could only receive subsidies from the offerings given, would find themselves taking advantage of widows and their piety and generosity, rather than working to alleviate their poverty and want.
So Jesus watches what people do their money, but what His church does with it! How many times have I heard in 20 years of ministry and a lifelong involvement in church life where many stand up and say, “We need to be good stewards of God’s money.” If I were to put subtitles to translate that, the issue would be, “We can’t spend money because we don’t know what the return will be.” It’s like that preacher who said, “Jesus has called the church to walk!” An old deacon would respond, “Let it walk!” The preacher went on, “The church needs to run!” “Let it run!” “The church needs to fly,” the preacher spoke. “Let it fly.” “It’s gonna take money and time for the church to fly.” “Let it walk, preacher. Let it walk!”
Christ is watching what we do with His money, both as parishioners and as leaders of our churches. Do we treat it as His money?