“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I’m going to be honest; this poor widow has put in more than all others for she has given everything she has.’” Mark 12:43-44 (My Paraphrase)
I must admit, it’s one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. I’m pretty sure you are familiar with my paraphrase from Mark 12 of Jesus’ response to a poor widow, who proved to give the greatest gift to the Temple treasury on that particular day. I think one of my favorite aspects of the story is captured in its opening remarks concerning Jesus’ seating of himself close to what we might call the Temple “offering plates” in order to observe people as they gave. I wish I could have been a “fly on the wall” in that moment and seen what Jesus and his disciples saw. We don’t know how many others were there, the amounts they provided, or the expression given by Jesus as each deposited his or her money into the treasury. The only thing we know for certain is the brief account of a widow. We can only speculate as to her circumstances and we don’t even have a name for her, but her story has lived on for nearly 2,000 years.
To some, this story may seem rather insignificant within the multitude of Jesus’ encounters, miracles, and teachable moments, but it preserves so much truth in a short space concerning the role of giving within the community of faith. It may come as a surprise to us how Jesus’ words of praise were uttered not for the sake of those who had grand amounts, but for the one who had hardly anything. The text indicates she presented two mites, also known as lepta, worth only a tiny fraction of a day’s wages. The word “lepton” means “thin” or “small,” and it served as the smallest denomination of coinage in Jesus’ day. If you hold up an ink pen or pencil, and look at the cap or eraser end, you will get an idea of just how tiny the coins really were. That was the gift offered by the woman. It was something which could easily become lost in the flood of other coins both due to its size and the miniscule amount it represented. Most people wouldn’t have taken notice of such a gift, but Jesus did!
We are informed the amount was all upon which this woman had to live. It was small, insignificant, and practically worthless to some, but it was everything to her. And not only was it everything to her, it was also everything to Jesus. Verse 44 states Jesus’ words of commendation came because “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.” The logic of Jesus’ statement seems reverse from what we have come to understand in our culture today. Often, we express appreciation for the larger sums of money. For example, naming rights may be given to an individual or family who provides a certain level of contributions for a building project. In response to such generosity, the wing of a hospital may become known as the John B. Doe Heart Center. I don’t use this illustration in a negative light, however, because I realize there are many well-to-do individuals who have a genuine heart for people and causes. I am suggesting that we must be careful when attributing value to the amount of some gifts over and against others.
A personal example may provide additional clarity. A few weeks ago, a contribution was found in our church prayer box. It was not an envelope similar to others within which tithes and offerings have been delivered during our time away. It was considerably different in that it consisted of three, one-dollar bills folded into a basic, brown, restaurant-style napkin. On one side were printed the following words: “The Blessing Box Thanks God Bless!!” It may not seem like a big deal for some, but in that moment my heart went to this passage of Scripture. I thought to myself, “Someone understands!” It was by no means a tremendous amount, but it spoke volumes in that someone cared. Perhaps he or she has utilized the goods provided within the Blessings Box each week. Maybe he or she simply saw what Little Rock has in place and appreciated what was begun last summer. I don’t have any idea who left this gift, and I don’t wish to know, but all I can say is “Thank You!” I’m grateful, not only because it will serve to assist with the purchase of other resources for the Blessings Box, but also because it served as a sermon in and of itself. It wasn’t the kind of sermon preached on a Sunday morning, but a sermon lived out in practice.
I share this story because it touched my heart in so many ways. It reminded me that everyone has something to offer the Kingdom of God when it comes to giving. Generosity is a benchmark of being a Christian in that it expresses an awareness that all things find their origin in God and that we truly wish for God to use what we have for God’s purposes. God has created us to give, but not in just any way. We are to give with the right spirit. For the widow in Mark’s story, her expression of generosity wasn’t a matter of leftovers. It was no issue of giving because it was expected by the Law. She gave everything in that moment which indicates sacrifice on her part. Generosity doesn’t ask, “What can I get by with?” but rather “What would God have me to do in order to be faithful to God?” I can’t possibly tell you how many times people have said something to me along the lines of “I wish I could do more!” or “It’s the best I have!” To this, I always say “Thank You!” Amount is not the most important thing in God’s Kingdom, but faithfulness and selflessness are. Amen!
Together in Christian Giving,
The Rev. Kelley Smart