If I were to sum up this passage in one word it would be love.
This is one of several places where Jesus reminds us of the greatest commandment. As the Amplified Bible puts it:
“The first and most important one is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul (life), and with all your mind (thought, understanding), and with all your strength.’ This is the second: ‘You shall [unselfishly] love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (v.29-31).
The focus is all about love. Love is the most important thing. Jesus is telling us that there is just one God who needs to be put first in our lives. It is as we do this that we are able to love others. We can only love because God loved us first with an amazing unconditional love. Truly love God with your whole being (heart, soul, mind and strength) and see how this love also turns into love for other people. As it says in 1 John 4:20 ‘If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?’
You can’t love God and hate other people – it doesn’t work like that. If you hate others or refuse to show love to them then you aren’t loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – challenging stuff!
The trouble with the Pharisees is they had missed this. They thought all their rituals and traditions made them holy, instead those things actually stopped them having a true relationship with God.
They did show love but their love was purely self-love, focused on making themselves feel important and good. They did this by making others feel bad because they could not keep and follow all the man-made rituals and customs. These teachers of the law/scribes/Pharisees described in v.38-40 were so full of pride that their hearts had become hard towards God. Jesus was particularly harsh when speaking to and about them because they were leading people astray by teaching things that God never asked them to do. They were tying people up with heavy burdens that were all man made. They had lost their love for others and replaced it with pride and selfishness.
Now it’s easy to read this and look with judgement on the scribes and think I’m not like that, but God has been really challenging me in the last few months about selfishness that I allow to linger in my heart. Things like being bitter about the way someone else behaved and feeling negatively towards them or thinking judgemental thoughts about others. All these things stop me from living out the greatest commandments Jesus spoke of at the beginning of this passage.
And this leads us on to the widow who gave everything she owned. She loved God so much that His love totally filled her heart and as a result she gave completely selflessly – everything she had to live on. The point isn’t so much what the woman gave but the attitude with which she gave. She gave sacrificially based on her love for God. The rich people who put in their large amounts, did so to be seen. The heavy silver coins would have made quite a sound when they were dropped into the metal money boxes. They gave part of their surplus that they didn’t need. God wants us to live with the same attitude as the widow – focused on God and loving Him and others. When we do this there is no room for selfishness in our hearts.
Why not start each day by asking “God, who can I show love to today?” or “Jesus, how can I demonstrate your love to day?”
Lord Jesus, thank you that you first showed incredible love for us in dying the humiliating death on the cross so that we can be forgiven and free. Help us to live our lives focused on love, love for you and other people. Lord, please guard our hearts and minds against pride and selfishness. Amen.