Ruth 3:1-5 & 4:13-17
I may have shared this with you before: The story is told of a young boy who went to church one Sunday morning - to get out of the cold weather. He’d been trying to sell newspapers, but it was a slow day & he had sold none. So he made his way into a church building, hoping to warm up and pass an hour unnoticed - on the back pew. The minister offered a stirring sermon about Jesus and his love for us. At one point during the service, as in most churches, an offering was received.
As the story goes... one of the ushers stopped right in front of the boy and held out the offering plate. After a short pause... the boy took the plate, and did something completely unexpected. He placed the offering plate on the floor, and first one foot, and then the other... he stepped into the offering plate.
He slowly looked up and with tears in his eyes and said, “Mister, I don’t have any money. I haven’t sold one newspaper today, but if Jesus did everything the minister said he did... for me... I’ll gladly give my life to Him.”
The story of Ruth and Naomi and the Parable of the Widow’s Mite are both stories of how God uses regular, everyday people... and the culture of the day... to accomplish his will... and they’re reminders for us, that Jesus does the same thing, today.
In Old Testament times, the Law of Moses stated that the poor, orphans and widows were to be cared for, but most of the time, that care was the bare minimum required by the law. For example, farmers who grew grain were required (by law) to leave the grain in the rows at the edges of their fields for the poor, but that was it. The farmers didn’t have to gather the grain... they didn’t have to take it to the poor, nor did they have to bring the poor to their fields so they could gather the grain. They just had to leave the edges of their fields available for the poor...
And that’s what Ruth and Naomi were doing in the field. They were out gathering the grain that was left for widows such as Naomi.
But... not only was she a widow, but both of her sons were dead, so it was just Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth. Which meant Naomi had no “social security” - no safety net - no means of support. In fact, Naomi was planning to go back to her homeland, and Ruth was going to go with her.
So Naomi decided to play matchmaker by encouraging Ruth to “introduce” herself to her distant relative Boaz, who happened to own the field that they were working in. Ruth followed Naomi’s advice, and the result was that she and Boaz married and became the parents of Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David… and from that lineage of David came Jesus. God took a bad situation for Naomi and used it to fulfill his greater purpose.
Of course, later... Jesus would take another “bad situation” involving a widow, to teach the value of giving to God’s work. The Parable of the Widow’s Mite took place in Jerusalem during the week before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus taught his disciples to beware of those who act pious and holy on the outside but who are evil and corrupt on the inside. He used the example of the scribes... who loved to flaunt their privileges and position. They enjoyed the adoration they received from the ordinary people in the street, and they had the best seats in the synagogues... while using their crooked schemes to force widows out of their own homes.
Of course, even today, those in power sometimes lose compassion and take advantage of others... we’ve watched it play-out time and again. Sometimes people in positions of authority (be it the church or state) lose their heart to love and serve God. In fact, they sometimes stand between us and God.
Of course, in both of these stories about widows... we’re reminded that God doesn’t overlook the powerless... and he does not overlook us. The widows’ faith and story encourages us to hold on to our faith in the God who will not disappoint.
I’m sure you’ve noticed how Jesus always made a point, to touch the untouchable; the outcasts, the downtrodden... the less fortunate... the least of these.
He and the disciples were sitting in the area of the temple treasury. The treasury contained thirteen trumpet-shaped vessels (or containers) where people could deposit their gifts and their temple tax. It was all “out in the open” - so Jesus (everyone else) could see how much money people gave. He could see the large sums of money that the scribes and the wealthy gave, and he could also see how much the widow gave.
The wealthy gave out of their abundance... they gave out of what they had left after they paid for all the necessities and wants of life. But the poor widow gave all that she had; everything she had to live on.
Of course, by putting all of her money into the temple treasury, there was little doubt, that she would go without something... maybe food... maybe some other necessity? So from Jesus’ point of view... she gave more than all the rich people simply because she gave everything to God. She literally & completely trusted God with her future.
Lots of times, large donations are given at least in part because of the public relations value. Jesus never condemns large gifts from wealthy people... but he does say that the effect of the widow’s small donation is even bigger than any large donations because she gave out of what she had. She put God first... and Jesus says this Poor Widow is the example for us to follow. We’re called to always put God first.
The fact is: God gives us resources to use, including money. In return, we have to manage these resources in God’s best interests-including caring for the poor.
Several years ago, we were trying to keep full-time art and music teachers in the local elementary school. And I was part of the group pushing for that to happen. We set out to raise the funds to pay the teacher’s salaries... and it wasn’t large donations from corporations and the wealthy that saved our teacher’s jobs. It was small donations, from regular people... given because they truly cared about our children.
Of course, at the end of the day, compassion and a willingness to give... go hand in hand. The Christian life is meant to be lived outward to the world, not inward to ourselves. God has hardwired us (as His children) for generosity and compassion.
When we live life compassionately and generously, it shows in our faces and our actions... it shows thru our lives.
Some people say we should give until it hurts - until we can feel the sacrifice! But, I don’t think so. God’s Word reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver! So, I believe you and I should give until it feels good... we should give of our time, talent and treasure until we know that our gifts and graces and efforts are making a difference, for Christ name & His sake.
Because God measures giving not by what we give, but by what we keep for ourselves.
In other words, He measures the gift by the intent... by the heart sacrifice of the giver. That’s why Jesus valued the widow’s gift. She sacrificed in faith... in order to show her love for God.
And that reminds me of another sacrifice that involved giving ALL... when Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross to save us. Ruth also sacrificed her own plans for her life to stay with her mother-in-law, and God rewarded her by making her the great-grandmother of King David.
If Ruth and Naomi, with their uncertain futures... if the poor widow with her last two cents, and Jesus can make sacrifices for the glory of God... surely you and I can do the same...
In fact... maybe you and I, like the young boy I mentioned at the beginning of this message... maybe we should take the offering plate, place it on the floor, and step-into it... giving our whole self to God.
After all... that’s ultimately, what God wants.