Summary: A stark contrast between religious hypocrites and a faithful woman. The religious show-offs were mostly interested in what they could GET out of life. And the poor widow as interested in all she could GIVE.
My younger brother, Dan, and I are a lot alike. He serves as a Minister of Education and Senior Adults at a church in Conway, Arkansas. One thing we have in common is that we both have a sense of humor leaning toward puns and groaners. You’ve endured plenty of my groaners through the years, but Dan, is a lot worse than me. A few days ago he sent me a funny list of Vincent van Gogh’s imaginary relatives. If these are bad, blame my brother.
Did you know that Vincent van Gogh had a dizzy aunt named Verti Gogh? His magician uncle was named Where Diddy Gogh? His Mexican uncle was named A Mee Gogh. His rock star cousin was named Ring Gogh. His banker uncle was Wells Far Gogh. His dancing cousin was named Tang Gogh and he had a Chinese bird-loving cousin named Fla Ming Gogh. His RV traveling aunt was named Winnie Bae Gogh. And finally, mercifully, His aunt who taught positive thinking was named Way To Gogh!
So Dan and I have a lot in common. But when we come to our passage in Mark today, there are two sections that seem to have nothing in common. They seem to be totally unrelated. First Jesus expressed disgust at the Jewish religious leaders who were hypocrites. Then immediately following, we find the beautiful story of the widow who gave two pennies—all she had—in the Temple Treasury. At first glance it may seem that these two passages are randomly placed. But there is a reason God put them together. This is a message of a stark contrast between religious hypocrites and a faithful woman. The hypocrites were show-offs seeking attention. And the unnamed, unnoticed widow was neglected and ignored by everyone, except Jesus. The religious show-offs were mostly interested in what they could GET out of life. And the poor widow as interested in all she could GIVE. The show-offs received the condemnation from the Lord. And the wonderful widow received an eternal commendation from the Lord.
So, as we study these two contrasting pictures, it should be our desire to avoid the attitude of the hypocrites, and to adopt the action of the widow. So, let’s consider two truths:
I. SHOW-OFF RELIGION IS DISGUSTING TO JESUS
Have you ever known someone who acted like a show-off? In the dictionary to show off is defined as “to make a deliberate or pretentious display of one’s abilities or accomplishments.” The harshest words of Jesus were directed toward these religious show-offs. As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:38-40)
I’ve said many times that I don’t really care for religion. True Christianity is all about a personal relationship with God. The English word “religion” comes from the Latin words “re” which means to repeat and ligare, which means “to bind.” Our word ligament comes from that root; and a ligament binds a muscle to the bone. Religion is man’s effort to get reconnected to God. But Christianity is God’s effort to reconnect to us.
Jesus had a lot to say about people who are religious hypocrites. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5) Here are two symptoms of show-off religion.
A. Show-off religion is concerned with outward appearance
Jesus said these show-offs loved to walk around in flowing robes. They wanted people to notice them by how they dressed. There’s nothing wrong with wearing nice clothes to church, but if you do it so people will think you’re religious, you just became a show-off.
I grew up being taught that you had to dress up for church. My dad was a forester for International Paper Company–he drove a pickup truck and wore khakis and boots to work. The only time he ever wore a tie was to church. But by the time we drove out of the church parking lot, he had pulled it off. He always said we should dress up for church because God deserves our very best. I didn’t argue with him, I just clipped on my little tie every Sunday. But like my dad, I always took it off in the car on the way home. I’ve often said that the definition of a hypocrite is a man who says he likes wearing a tie. That’s why we don’t have a dress code at Green Acres.