Poker Faith (Mark 12:38-44)

By | November 11, 2012

Let's Faith It #2


     Hugh and I, I mean you and I are created in God’s Image and called be Good Stewards of the portion of God’s stuff which God has entrusted to our care. Sometimes it’s easy to but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we have to make decisions that, on the surface, could cost us everything.

     I know a few of you have played poker. I grew up in a family that gathered at least once a month and played penny ante poker. I learned a lot about the game by watching and then played some while in the service. As a matter of fact, I had an uncle who was a professional gambler in Las Vegas.

     How many of you have ever watched the Texas Hold ‘em Championships? Every now and then you will see one of the gamblers who feels like they have an absolutely unbeatable hand. They’re so confident they put on their poker face, based upon their poker faith and go all in. That means they bet everything they have on that one hand.

     In the passage from Mark, we meet a widow who had that some kind of poker faith. She trusted God so much that when it came time for an offering, she went all in. Before we look at that passage and talk about our own Poker Faith, let’s pray.


Mark 12:38-44 (NRSV)

[38] As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  

[39] and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  

[40] They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  

[41] He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  

[42] A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  

[43] Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  

[44] For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

     Jesus contrasts the scribes, who are all about show, all about power and position and all about the bling with a poor widow who came to the Temple that day and went all in. “She put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” They didn’t realize that she was giving with a high stakes poker faith.


     A. So, let’s look at what was going on that day. Jesus and the boys had gathered at the Temple with a bunch of folks and Jesus was teaching. It wasn’t unusual for teachers to sit where they were sitting. Jesus had chosen to sit in the area between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women in an area called the Gate Beautiful, this way, both Jews and Gentiles alike could hear his teaching.

     In this area known as the Court of the Women, there were thirteen contraptions called “the trumpets.” They were called “the trumpets” because that’s what they were shaped like. I’ve read that they were big funnel sort of contraptions into which the people threw their offerings. Each one had a special purpose, such as to buy corn or wine or oil for the sacrifices. They were offering boxes used to support the day to day expenses of the Temple. They had the same sort of purpose as our special offerings.

     As you can see, these offering contraptions were in a more or less public place. Some people, especially some of the wealthy scribes and Pharisees, would come along and chunk in large contributions consisting of lots of coins that would rattle and clank and make all kinds of noise as they rolled around the mouth and then down the neck of “the trumpet,” in a sense, announcing how generous they were in their offering.

     Now, there was and is nothing wrong with large contributions. However, these folks threw in their large contributions with lots of fanfare and noise, hoping that “the trumpet” WOULD sound so that everyone would notice just how much they had given.

     B. So, picture what is going on. The Temple was always busy. There was always a slew of things going on. Not only were people making sacrifices and teaching classes and preaching, but just outside the gate where Jesus sat were the money changers and the merchants with their birds and goats and lambs for the sacrifices. Plus, the Temple was a tourist stop. You couldn’t go to Jerusalem without stopping at the Temple. Everybody and their uncle stopped to see the Temple. Families came and gawked, while their relatives described all that was going on around them.

     Let me try to describe what this part of the Temple sounded and smelled like. Imagine any large Mall on Christmas Eve with all the cash registers going at once. Add to this the sale barn with all the animal disagreements, noises and smells and plus five or six auctioneers trying to outsell each other at the same time. Pour in the crowd at a football game on Friday nights. Then add the smell of about a dozen bad greasy spoons, coupled with a few candle, potpourri and cheap perfume shops. Add about hundred groups filled with the excitement and confusion of a trip to Six Flags. Throw in about two dozen Sunday School classes in hot debate, one or two T.V. Evangelists on a real roll. Add a High School pep rally or two. Then, stir it all up and yell, “Fire!”

     From what I’ve read, this is pretty close to the atmosphere of the Temple on a good day. Jesus and the disciples sat in the midst of all this noise and confusion, teaching while a widow made her way to the gate with her meager offering. Over this cacophony of noise Jesus heard this widow’s two small coins go into one of “the trumpets.”

     Partly it was odd because of all the noise, but it was even odder because they were two such small coins and they wouldn’t have made much noise at all. Even though she went all in, the widow wouldn’t have wanted to draw attention to herself. You see all she gave was the bare minimum gift that could even be given as prescribed by Rabbinic Law; not only that, it was only one eighth of what was to be given to any traveling beggar asking for a handout. No, the widow wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see that she had less than any common beggar.

     But our Savior knew. Our Savior heard her gift of those two small coins above the cooing of the doves, the baaing of the sheep and even above the braying of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus heard the poor widow’s gift of those two coins as they quietly jingled against “the trumpet.” No one else heard them hit, but the sound of those coins resonated throughout heaven and Jesus heard. Jesus heard and praised her saying, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

     This Widow who went all in can teach us a lot about Poker Faith, going all in ourselves.


     It all begins with humility. All that we have and all that we are is the result of God’s graciousness. God created us. God provides for all of our needs. Not our wants and desires, but our daily needs. The talents we have are given to us by God. We use and build upon those God given talents and abilities in order to earn a living for our families. We may buy stuff with the money we earn but even those things can be attributed to God because we used our God given talents and time to earn the money to buy the things.
     There is nothing which we have which does not come from God. God is our Creator. We are the created. God knows our needs just like parents know their children’s needs.

     Remembering this helps us focus our thoughts and our lives upon God. A life focused upon God is exactly what God most desires for each of us, a life that is lived with a Poker Faith that goes “all in” in its service, joy and quality.


     Poker faith Grows Out Of Love. The widow’s humility grew out of her love for God and her knowledge of God’s love for her. Out of this love, she responded by giving her gifts and herself to God. And it’s the same with us. In his first letter,  John says, “We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) That’s how we operate. We love God because we found out that God loves us through the love of Christ, who died for our sins. God loves us.

     It’s not what we have done but what has been done for us that causes that love to grow. It’s not our love for God that makes us humble, it’s knowing that God loves us in spite of all the horrible things we have done. God loves us.

     There’s a Dennis the Menace cartoon, it shows Dennis and Joey leaving the Wilson’s front porch, each with a handful of cookies. Joey has this surprised look on his face and Dennis says, “Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.” (2)

     Dennis is right on target. It’s not what we do but what God does for us. We love God because God loves us. Our Stewardship, how we care for God’s stuff, is motivated by our love for God. We give to God and serve God through the Church because God loves us. That was what motivated the widow. And Jesus noticed.   The one who gave the most, noticed the one who gave so little which actually turned out to be so much. The one who gave his life out of love for God responded to the one who gave what little she had out of her love for God. And the greatness of the sound of that small gift still echoes in heaven because it was given in humility and it grew out of love when the widow went “all in.”


     Poker Faith Also Responds Out Of Thankfulness. The widow’s gift of those two small mites, less than a penny by today’s standards, was given in humility, grew out of her love for God and was given out of a deep sense of thankfulness. Poker Faith always responds out of thankfulness.

     I’ve said this before and will probably say it again, there are three kinds of giving. There is grudge giving, duty giving and “thanks” giving.  

     Grudge giving gives but doesn’t really want to and feels forced into it either by peer pressure or guilt.

     Duty giving gives simply because it knows it’s supposed to and is afraid of the consequences if it doesn’t. 

     But “thanks” giving gives out of the spirit of love, the spirit of thankfulness that grows from humility and a loving relationship with God. “Thanks” giving goes “all in” because that’s how God loved us. God went “all in” when He sent Jesus to be our Savior.

     At one time Rudyard Kipling was so popular that his writings were getting ten shillings per word (about 50 cents back then). There were a few college students, however, who didn’t appreciate Kipling’s writings. They got together and facetiously sent him a letter enclosing ten shillings. It read, “Please, send us your best word.” They got back a letter from Kipling with one word, “Thanks.” (3)

     “Thanks” IS the best word. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Everyone likes to be told “thank you” for a job well done, even God. The widow responded out of humility and love with “thanks” giving. Jesus heard that close to silent “thanks” as those two little coins made their clinking sound in the offering. Jesus heard and was moved.

     “Thanks” giving should be how we give to the Church. We should give thanks for the blessings we have received from God. Our families, our health, our faith, our friends, our job, the abilities we have. We should be thankful for all things because all things come from God.


     I read a newspaper article a number of years ago. In Indianapolis, a wealthy widow was found dead in her home. The police discovered over 5 million dollars in cash stuffed in trash cans, shoe boxes, drawers, tool boxes, paper bags, the pockets of clothing and even in a vacuum cleaner bag. Most of the money was in $100 bills. Two million of the money was found in a trash can next to the widow’s bed. Mrs. Marjorie Jackson, dressed in flannel pajamas and a housecoat, was found on the kitchen floor. There was no foul play.

     It seems Mrs. Jackson was the widow of a very wealthy husband who died leaving her an estate of over 14 million dollars. There were two brand new Cadillac Sevilles in the garage, each with less than 1,000 miles on them. It seems that in the past, the police had responded to numerous burglary and vandalism reports from Mrs. Jackson’s home. But when they arrived, Mrs. Jackson would order them off of her property. When police arrived to investigate this time they had to cut three padlocks off of the driveway gate just to get on the property.

     Mrs. Jackson is considerably different than the nameless widow in our passage. Mrs. Jackson was wealthy. Our widow was poor. Mrs. Jackson hoarded her money and was paranoid that someone would steal it so she hid it all over the house. Our widow was generous and went all in giving everything to God. Mrs. Jackson’s life was miserable because of her money. Our widow’s life, though she had very little, was filled with joy.

     Our Widow challenges us to let our giving begin with humble acknowledgement that all we have and all we are comes from God. 

     Our Widow challenges us let our giving grow out of our love for God.

     And she challenges us to respond with “thanks” giving. Giving that is given thankfully for God.

     She challenges us to realize faith in God isn’t a Gamble.

     She challenges us to live a Poker Faith lifestyle that goes “All In” for God through Jesus.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.