Before embarking on a detailed examination of the "woes" of Matthew 23, I feel it necessary to explore one more important piece of information that helps understand the scope of the context. We all know there are 4 Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We also all know that in some places they flow in alignment with each other, but in many places one or another gospel record will examine in detail a particular incident or teaching that another gospel might omit altogether. This is exactly what happened with the Matthew 23 record.
Matthew devotes an entire chapter to the final discourse Jesus gave the people. He goes into graphic detail regarding the sins of the scribes and Pharisees, the "woes" and his final farewell to Jerusalem. The Gospel of John never mentions this discourse, which is not surprising since most of the book is devoted to things never mentioned in the other three gospels. What is fascinating is that Mark condenses Matthew 23:1-33 into three verses. Luke condenses the entire Matthew 23 record into two verses.
In Matthew, immediately after the long discourse of chapter 23, the next thing mentioned is the discussion of "end times" events with his disciples in chapter 24. In both Mark and Luke, after their abbreviated version of the Matthew 23 record; they insert an extremely important teaching event that Matthew omits entirely. To the casual student of the Bible, this all sounds terribly confusing and boring. But to the student eagerly wanting to understand the Bible it is thrilling.
Believe it or not, the Bible usually interprets itself. Most of time, the correct interpretation of a verse is found directly in the verse itself. Simply read what is written, and the majority of time The Word of God will mean what it says and will say what it means. When what is written makes no sense or seems to contradict other places in the Bible, then other keys to research must be applied. May I highly recommend a book written back in the early 1900's called: "How to Enjoy the Bible" by an English Bible Scholar named E. W. Bullinger.
One doesn't have to agree with everything a theologian says to benefit from what they may write. As the saying goes, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water". This book provides a wealth of practical knowledge regarding how to read with understanding and enjoyment the Bible. Mr. Bullinger's work on astronomy, numbers and figures of speech in the Bible are generally accepted as brilliant works of research. If you can find a copy of "How to Enjoy the Bible", it could be a huge blessing to you.
Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program. The four verse record sandwiched in between the Matthew 23 discourse and the discussion on Mt. Olivet regarding the "end times" is found in both Mark and Luke. I choose to look at Mark's record because it goes into greater detail. In Mark 12:41 we read:
"And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury; and many that were rich cast in much."
In the temple, there were 13 chests where contributions could be made for the maintenance of and to defray the expenses of the temple's upkeep. After his incredible discourse regarding scribes and Pharisees, Jesus stopped and watched as rich people threw many of their coins into the chests. At quick glance, this would appear to be a good thing wouldn't it? Rich people giving many coins to help the temple look good seems like a good idea. Continuing on with the record in verse 42 it says:
"And there came a certain poor widow and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing."
Now here is a great example of a verse that needs some research to ever understand. We do not use "mites" or "farthings" as our monetary exchange units. These were terms used in Jesus' time and would thus be foreign to our understanding. A mite is not dealing with dust, although there is a similarity. A dust mite is one of smallest living creatures on earth. It causes untold allergic suffering and is almost impossible to eliminate due to its small size. Here in Mark, a mite represented the absolute smallest copper coin in use. This woman threw in 2 mites which equaled a farthing. A farthing equals approximately TWO FIFTHS OF ONE CENT. It would take 2 ½ farthings or 5 mites to equal ONE PENNY.
Seeing this poor widow, which in Biblical times represented one of the most destitute of all classes of people, throw 2 mites in one of the chests really moved Jesus. So he called his disciples and said to them in verse 43:
"Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury."
What Jesus said could not be literally true. The widow cast in 2 mites and the rich people probably cast in hundreds if not thousands of mites. Jesus is referring not to the actual amount she gave but to the amount in PROPORTION to her means. In other words, the degree of personal SACRIFICE her 2 mites represented. The rich people simply threw in their "spare change", and although it represented quite a bit of money, it represented NO SACRIFICE to them at all. The temple leaders loved the rich people for their many gifts filled the chests up to the top. They probably rolled their eyes and arrogantly looked away when the widow threw in her 2 mites. "How is that going to help us" they probably thought.
God's looks at things far differently than man. God looks on the heart and cares not for outward appearances which are all show. God thinks infinitely more highly of a sacrifice of 2 mites than the show of giving 2,000 mites that represent nothing but spare change. From God's point of view, an offering is not acceptable unless it requires SACRIFICE. Finishing the record, verse 44 states:
"For all they (the rich) did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
This widow's "want" was really referring to her state of poverty. She literally gave ALL THE MONEY SHE THEN HAD, AND ALL THE MONEY SHE HAD TO LIVE UPON, at least for that day. Get this, she chose to FAST that day in order to GIVE! How many of us would be willing to forgo food in order to have the PRIVILEGE of giving? I read this and it makes me immediately cry tears of repentance. We think we give so much, but in reality we don't have a clue what true giving is all about.
I have worked with, advocated for and tried to help "poor people" for years. I have seen people living in conditions that a rat wouldn't live in. I have seen families trying to survive on perhaps a dollar a day for food. I have also seen these same people attend church and empty their pockets into the offering plate. Then, while the wealthy ones go off for chicken dinner, these people go home to perhaps a loaf of bread and water. Who, I ask you, will receive the greater reward at that great and glorious day in the future?
One of the biggest areas of hypocrisy in Christianity today deals with the giving of "tithes and offerings". I know wealthy Christians who are content to give maybe 10% of their income to the Church. To these people, this represents nothing more than spare change. Other people do exactly as Jesus said in this record; they give of their abundance and that alone. One's abundance is nothing more than what is not needed. How can this be considered a sacrifice? When that which you give is never missed, it never represented any type of sacrifice to begin with.
True giving is when that which is given represents genuine sacrifice. How can God's people claim to be really giving when they never have had to give up a thing to be able to give? When confronted with the choice between a burger, fries and large drink vs. being able to put $5 in the offering plate; how many would be willing to sacrifice the "value meal" in order to have the privilege of giving? The most hypocritical Christians I know are the ones who "have nothing to give" yet still have enough to smoke cigarettes, drink booze and eat out at fast food restaurants 9 times a week.
If a person really wants to be able to give, they must sacrifice something to have the money to do so. Anything else is nothing but an excuse not to do what God says to do. I hate being so brutally honest, but let's face it; the Bible is brutally honest when it comes to issues of personal accountability. I have heard enough excuses in my life as to why people cannot afford to give I could write a book of them. Excuses are cheap ways of simply saying "I don't want to do something". Somehow providing an excuse seems to make the disobedience less of a sin in our minds.
Honesty and hypocrisy are mortal enemies. If we stay honest with God and His Word instead of seeking to excuse our disobedience and unbelief, then God can forgive us and we can grow. If we refuse to be honest but instead rationalize away our disobedience and unbelief; then God has no choice but to hold us accountable for our actions as hypocrites. None of us want to be guilty of hypocrisy, we just sort of end up in it because of our immaturity and lack of honesty.
Allow me to leave you with three short verses from II Corinthians 8 which provides all the light needed to understand the true heart of giving. From the Amplified Bible, II Corinthians 8:1-3 reads:
"We want to tell you further, brethren, about the grace (the favor and spiritual blessing) of God which has been evident in the churches of Macedonia [arousing in them the desire to give alms];
For in the midst of an ordeal of severe tribulation, their abundance of joy and their depth of poverty [together] have overflowed in wealth of lavish generosity on their part.
For, as I can bear witness,[they gave] according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability; and [they did it] VOLUNTARILY."
When the pressure is on---GIVE.
When the cupboards are bare save for one can of corn-
give it to someone with none.
When all's been lost and there's nothing to give--
Share of all for you God's done.
If all you have are the clothes on your back-
give them to one whose back is bare.
For its in giving that which always was needed
One finally learns what It means to share.
Amen!x infinity! Americans aren't too comfortable with the idea of sacrificing! Especially if it means "giving til it hurts!" If it means something to you- then it means something to Him! He knows our hearts and motives!