Many of Jesus’ teachings are centered around and taught around the Temple to reach not only the religious, but the religious teachers as well. He most often used parables as a way to call out the religious leaders without putting himself in danger, while more direct teaching was used when teaching groups who did not have that authority. We see both in Mark 12, where Jesus has set himself up outside the Temple and teaches several lessons. In the first, he tells a parable of a father sending his servants to a vineyard to bring back a harvest, but the tenants of the vineyard beat and kill them. Finally, the owner sends his son to the vineyard thinking surely they wouldn’t kill his son, but they do. In this, he is able to point out the treatment of the chief priests and the teachers of the law. For the second story of interest to us, a group comes to ask Jesus if they should pay Caesar’s Imperial Tax in order to trap him with the law. But He asks them whose face and words are on the coins, and says to give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give to God what is God’s. The most well-known story of Mark 12 however is the widow and her two coins. At the end of the chapter, Jesus watches several people come and go, paying their portions, which for the rich is quite significant. In watching them however, the first person that is worth remarking on to Him is a poor widow who gives the only two copper coins she has to her name. Jesus as we all know says that she has given more than the others, because they gave from their wealth, and she gave everything. He is pointing out that her heart is in it, that this is a willing and freely given offering. This presents a stark contrast to those who were living in wealth and gave the required percentage according to the law, whereas hers was what she wanted to give. Throughout both Moses’ time and in the return from captivity with Ezra, there is a marked attention paid to the willing and freely given tithes and offerings, not just fulfilling the requirement. We can look back to the time in Exodus 36:3-7 where the Jews gave so much that they began to turn away offerings. This poor widow gave everything willingly, knowing that no one would notice her two coins, but knowing that she had given everything she could.
A large portion of sermons begin with the “humble” recognition that we are sinners. They begin by lowering all of us, so that we will listen to their answers. When we base the entire experience of church and of developing a relationship with God on guilt, on feeling insufficient for His mercy, we lose the love that He promised us first. We wear guilt with us every day to atone for our actions and to remind us to not turn back towards sin, but God said ask and you will be forgiven. The one thing that Jesus accomplished across the board was making those He encountered feel the love that God has for us before the guilt. I’m not coming to punish you. I want to fellowship with you. I want to talk with you. All that other stuff fades away, just lets you and me talk and walk together for a bit. He always let people come to Him and welcomed them before ever asking for a confession or for repentance. Jesus made sure that we didn’t associate Him with the church’s additional doctrines or guilt-tripping to increase attendance and tithing.
In a lot of our current prison systems, we have the same mentality. We convince them that they are paying for their crimes without teaching them about reform, about being better people or how to manage their situations without resorting to drastic measures. In both instances, we don’t ask what they were missing that put them in that situation. A lot of times we are lost and don’t know where to look or where to start with the Bible, but rather we google verses or follow devotionals. But these aren’t always the answer or the problem that we’re struggling with in our lives.
Prayer does not guarantee a direct answer. It barely even guarantees that we know what we are saying or asking for. However, He asked us to speak with Him, to come to know Him better, and to bring all of our problems to Him. We’ve all been told to pray at certain times or that if we prayed longer that we would get the answer we hope for, but that isn’t His plan; it’s ours. We have to work to communicate with Him, but primarily to become better Christians, not for fear of guilt, but for our love of God. If we focus on the wrong side of the equation, on the “Reformed Christian” and think we can build a system on how to turn A into B, we will always be lost: those that are in the pews and those behind the pulpit. Jesus was here to give us the grace and love and joy that transforms us in the first place. If we’re peddling heaven like a million dollar lottery ticket, trying to get everyone to buy in, in case they’re the lucky one that buys enough tickets to get in, we’re not following Jesus’ path. I never want to be a salesman or a magic man with his tonics. I’m a blood-bought son of God, speaking from a place of freedom and from God’s love. The truth has a way of selling itself, and we can only find reformation through that love.
1 John 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
We, here at The Incomplete Message, would like to reserve this weekend to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom. We honor Jesus for his sacrifice every day; let us set aside one weekend for the men and women who, despite their imperfection, have made the same choice to suffer and give their lives so that we may live. Thank you, all of you, of every walk of life, for the sacrifice you have made.