No Needy Among Them

Today’s reading is Acts 4.

“There was not a needy person among them…”

If we read this too quickly, we may pass right through this profound statement and miss what is really going on. To us today, this can be a quaint picture of togetherness in the first congregation: “Oh, how sweet! They loved each other and cared for each other.” That, however, is only the surface of what is happening. Luke is calling to mind a passage from the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 15:4, God, describing how He would care for the kingdom of Israel, explained, “But there will be no poor among you.” Then the chapter goes on to explain that the reason there wouldn’t be any poor was not because everyone would own their own home, have their own very productive farm, enjoy lucrative businesses or employment. No, rather, some would be financially blessed and others would not be. However, those who were blessed would share with those who weren’t. In that way, everyone in God’s kingdom would be taken care of, and there would be no needy among them. Regrettably, Israel failed horribly. They were judged not only because they didn’t love God, but because they didn’t love one another. With that in the background, Luke paints the picture of the first congregation. Where the kingdom of Israel failed, Christ’s kingdom succeeded. Those who had the blessings did not horde them as their own, but sold and shared. And among them, the needs of the needy were provided. There were no needy among them. Amazing. How is that working for us today?

Next weeks’s reading is Acts 5.

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What Happened Next?

Today’s reading is Luke 21.

Is it just me or does the story about the poor widow seem incomplete? Shouldn’t the story go on to tell us how she left the temple complex and found a denarius on the ground or a treasure in a field? Or perhaps she got home to discover a long lost relative had looked her up and was providing her a large living? Or perhaps someone overheard Jesus’s praise of the woman, followed her home, adopted her into his family, and cared for her the rest of her life? Yet, we don’t see any of that. What happened next? Did she get to go home and eat or did she go home and starve? Did she continue to live in her home or did it get devoured by one of the scribes? We don’t know. I know what we want. We want a nice tidy picture in which this woman sacrificed for God, giving away all she had to live on, and by the end of the episode everything works out nicely for her as she receives an immediate reward from God. But you know what might have happened? Like the rich fool of Jesus’s story in Luke 12:16-21, she might have gone home and God said to her, “Tonight your soul is required of you.” She might have gone home and starved to death. If this is the case, then this account actually connects to another passage that on the surface may not seem to be connected, but really is. Luke 12:8-9 says the one who denies Jesus before men, Jesus will deny before God’s angels or messengers. But the one who acknowledges Jesus before men, Jesus will acknowledge before God’s angels/messengers. This widow was not making a verbal confession, but she was acknowledging God. She was acknowledging God’s care and love. What did Jesus do? He acknowledged her before God’s disciples, that is, His messengers. What a foreshadowing of what would happen for this woman once she died whether it was from starvation that week or of natural causes 20 years later after God provided an extended living for her. The great reward is not in this life, but in the next. Jesus doesn’t give us what we want here. The message is not give a large proportion of your income to God and then get blessed financially from some strange and shocking location. The message is put your hope completely in God because there is more to life than what is going on here on earth. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. But you know that in this moment, the best thing you can do is glorify God.

Monday’s reading is Luke 22.

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Put All Your Eggs in God’s Basket

Today’s reading is Luke 21.

The widow’s story is not about how we treat the church’s first day of the week collection. It is actually about how we treat our every day of the week hope. The point about the widow is not that proportionally she gave a bunch of money. This widow was giving away all she had in her possession to live on. However, the Law actually made provision for her support. According to Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12, the tithe was supposed to support widows. According to Deuteronomy 10:18, God executes justice for the widow, providing food and clothing. When the widow gave both of her coins, she was demonstrating how much she trusted God. She could have put just one coin in, holding one back to at least have something in case God didn’t come through. But she didn’t. She put both in the temple treasury. If this story were merely about proportional giving in the collection, surely half would have been enough. After all, that is how much Zacchaeus gave to the poor. The issue here is not about the proportion of our giving, but the proportion of our hope. This story is not intended to give us a rule that says we put every bit of our income in the church’s collection plate. The point is we put every bit of our hope in God. That means we use what material goods we have His way, to accomplish His goals, to do what He directed. That is going to include supporting the work of the congregation, sharing generously with those in need (especially within the household of faith), helping in cases of urgent need, providing for our families, etc. Rather than hoarding our goods because we want to make sure we are taken care of in case God’s plan fails, we trust God and use these funds His way. We put all of our hope in Him.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 21.

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God Won’t Be Bought

Today’s reading is Luke 21.

I simply do not think it is a coincidence that the poor widow is exalted as an example right after Jesus belittled the scribes for devouring widows’ houses. The Law was clear; the mistreatment of widows was an abomination (see Exodus 22:22-24). Isaiah 1: 12-17 is profoundly parallel to Luke 20:45-21:4. As in Isaiah’s day, the scribes were trampling God’s courts. Their long prayers were an abomination because they did not correct oppression or plead the widow’s cause. As Isaiah went on to do in his book, Luke goes on in the rest of this chapter to describe the judgment that will now be coming upon Israel. Perhaps it is a mere coincidence, but the word translated “greater” in Luke 20:47 is from the same family as the word “abundance” in Luke 21:4. That is, those who gave out of their abundance would still receive the more abundant condemnation. Their abundant gifts will not change that one iota. God will not be bought. God will not be bartered with. God wants all of us. We can’t pick and choose the bits we want to give to Him. We can’t pay Him off to make up for it. We can’t “do church” right enough to make up for lacking love, compassion, and justice. Of course, we must also recognize it goes the other way. We can’t “do mercy” enough to make up for worshiping God falsely either. The point here is not that one is better than the other. The point is if we try to pick and choose, we’ll never be able to drop enough money in the plate to buy God’s favor. God won’t be bartered with. God won’t be bought. We must render to God all that is His, and that is all that is us.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 21.

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A Good Living OR a Good Life

Today’s reading is Luke 21.

Most of us spend our lives trying to earn a good living. However, Jesus highlights the widow who hardly has any living at all as the epitome of all His teaching. In Luke 12:15, Jesus pointed out that life does not consist of possessions. In Luke 19:18-23, the one we call the rich, young ruler had a good living, but he walked away from true life. Here, a poor widow shows that she was focused on real life. She was willing to sacrifice her life so she could have real life. The point, of course, is not that simply being poor qualifies anyone for the kingdom. Neither is the point that being wealthy excludes anyone from the kingdom. However, we do learn that the idea that material goods are not the indicator of God’s approval. If God blesses you with a good living, that’s cool. Use it to glorify Him and serve your brothers and sisters. But don’t waste your years chasing a good living, invest your time pursing a good life. And through Jesus Christ find what is life indeed.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 21.

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A True Example

Today’s reading is Luke 21.

You know what would be super cool? To be Jesus’s ultimate example. Think about it. How would you like it if Jesus called His disciples together, pointed at you, and said, “You know all this stuff I’ve been talking about for the past three years? That person right there, that person is getting it right. That person is what I’ve been talking about.” Wouldn’t that be cool? That actually happened. Luke recorded it, but I’ve overlooked it most of my life because it is just four verses, the person isn’t even named, and I always thought it was just written to teach us about how to give into the collection. I’m talking about the unnamed widow who put two little coins into the temple treasury. Really, I encourage you to reread all of Luke and see if you can’t see how so much of what Jesus taught culminates in the example of this widow. Even in this immediate context she is set up as a contrast not merely to the rich that are likely looking down on her paltry contribution, but as a contrast to the scribes from the end of the previous chapter. You would think that men who spend their days copying and teaching God’s law would stand out as the ultimate examples. No. They are pretenders who look spiritual but actually defraud widows. As Luke records it, almost as soon as Jesus highlights this about the scribes he sees a literal widow who isn’t defrauding others. She isn’t taking from the less fortunate. Rather, she is defrauding herself in order to support the temple. As Jesus had said to the brothers arguing about an inheritance, life isn’t made up of possessions. Now we see a woman who really believes that. Wow! I want to be more like her.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 21.

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Repent

Today’s reading is Luke 19.

Jesus continues to meet real life representatives of His story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Last week, He met the rich ruler, a Pharisee if there ever was one. Then he met the blind beggar, who like the little children was hindered from calling out to Jesus by the crowds, and who like the tax collector of Jesus’s story simply begged for mercy. And now, Jesus meets an actual tax collector. This meeting gives us some insight to the justification of the tax collector in the story. Justification doesn’t come simply by saying the right words in a prayer. That prayer was the manifestation of a penitent heart, just as Zacchaeus’s reaction to Jesus was. The rich ruler walked away sad from Jesus. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, received Jesus joyfully and responded to His teaching. He repented. He restored fourfold to all those he had swindled (as tax collectors were wont to do in those days), however, beyond that he gave half of all he had to the poor. In the account of Zacchaeus, the people call him a sinner. But he was just like the tax collector in the story. He didn’t need others to call him a sinner. He knew exactly who he was, but he also knew exactly who Jesus was. Jesus was offering mercy. Zacchaeus understood. What response could there be but repentance, turning his life over to Jesus. This is what the justification of Jesus’s story looks like.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 19.

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