Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about “cheap grace,” grace without serious cost, grace without a cross, cosmetic sharing and blessing not deeply felt. Charity also can be either cheap or costly. We can contribute without feeling the impact on our checkbooks or credit cards. We willingly share our money “off the top” and maybe even a little volunteer time. But we avoid long-term exposure to or lasting relationships with the disadvantaged of our cities or communities. Charity is fine as long as it leaves the givers in control. Jesus sits, watches, and then teaches his disciples about his observation. The poor widow’s sacrifice genuinely foreshadows one who gives all on a merciless cross in the consummate expression of costly grace.
Years ago one of the young girls (call her “Annie”) from the nearby “projects” attended the church’s after-school program. The mother of her single-parent household struggled with alcoholism (a struggle she finally won). Annie’s mother lived a miserable life—especially in light of the poverty and addiction she faced daily. One afternoon before the program began, Annie knocked on my office door. When I opened the door, she handed me a surprisingly heavy small paper sack. The sack contained pennies she had accumulated over months. She wanted to contribute to the church’s after-school program, for which she thanked God. I held back tears until she left. Today, some twenty years later, Annie is a full-time member of the church staff and directs its children’s ministries program. God is still in the Easter business, transforming the widow’s mite or sacks of pennies into concentric circles of blessing. I thank God for Jesus’ truth and story. Believe it and do likewise!
Use me, O God, to confirm your power to translate even small but costly sacrifices into joyful blessings for many. Amen.
Ruth’s story forms part of the background of the family of Jesus. The son of Ruth and Boaz, Obed, is David’s grandfather. The women of Bethlehem rejoice with Naomi at the birth of her grandson, and the psalmist declares that children are a blessing from God. In the scriptures children are spoken of only as a blessing, never as a liability (unlike some narratives in our culture). The Hebrew writer builds upon the eternal nature of Christ’s sacrifice, proclaiming that his death was sufficient once for all. In Mark, Jesus warns his disciples not to be fooled by appearances. Those who put on a big show of piety do not impress God. God wants us instead to give from the heart, even if no one but God sees.
• Read Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17. How has your life been enriched through the diversity of people around you?
• Read Psalm 127. How do you actively ensure the shaping of your household around godly practice?
• Read Hebrews 9:24-28. What spiritual income do you draw upon to keep your faith and hope alive?
• Read Mark 12:38-44. How do you guard against duplicitous living?
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