He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 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. 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.’ — Mark 12:41-44
Once upon a time, there was an old couple who lived in a small cottage in a small town. They were not rich, did not have a lot of possessions, and did not seem to require goods they could not purchase for themselves or trade for with neighbors. They were content, and for them, they had enough.
One day, all that came crashing down, or so it seemed. The old man died, leaving his widow to think of a life that now seemed impossible to sustain. How would she manage without him? She did not feel she could maintain the garden full of vegetables they used for their meals and traded for other goods they did not grow. Without the income from their humble farm-stand, how would she pay the taxes and upkeep the small cottage needed from time to time? How would she contribute to their church – that depended upon those like the couple who simple lives?
She visited the church and sat in the same familiar spot where she and her spouse had sat for years. She sat alone, holding a small amount of money in her purse for the offering. It was not as much as they used to contribute, but it was all she had. When the sidesman came around with the alms basin, she slipped her contribution in, hoping that no one would notice the slight clink of coins she put in. She asked God to accept it, as small as it was.
Like the widow in the Gospel story, this widow had contributed all she could, knowing that others would make much larger offerings. In the Gospel, Jesus observed her gift’s size, noting to his disciples that although it was a pittance, it was a gift from the heart. The part of the offering was more important than the size, and it was the difference between giving part of a more significant amount and giving all she had.
Even though the tithing season is past and church budgets have been set and approved, maybe I can look at the Gospel story differently. The main character is a woman, a widow with no man to protect and provide for her. When she came to the synagogue or temple to give her offering, she might have been the only woman in a crowd of men. She could have stayed at home, but she chose to do her duty and give what she could to God.
In a tradition that preached and encouraged practicing care for the less fortunate, it could be that every other person in the town or village would think it was someone else’s responsibility. Jesus called the disciples to remember the gift. Still, I wish he had given us a little more about how the story was received and what difference it made in those who heard his teaching.
I want to think that the story of our first widow ended with people noticing her struggle and gathering around to comfort and support her. They would drop off “extra” casseroles or soups for her nourishment, occasionally help in the garden in exchange for some produce, or even run errands for her. They would keep an eye on her and sometimes drop in for tea or coffee. The church would help with spiritual support, noticing if she missed church and calling on her to see how she was doing. In short, she would be cared for by a community of people who, consciously or not, did what Jesus taught about loving their neighbor and helping those in need.
Widows and orphans and all sorts of people with needs surround us. The man on the street corner with a sign stating he needed money might be a scammer. Still, he also might be a man who was down on his luck and needed a sandwich, a cup of coffee, or a bottle of water. We are surrounded by developments with houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, we can still run into someone begging on the side of the road with all their possessions piled in a pilfered grocery cart. Those are just the ones we see; there are dozens more we do not see.
Before we say that it is someone else’s responsibility or that we do not want to have to pay for someone too lazy to work, perhaps we should remember that Jesus said that we should care for all who suffer from misfortunes of various kinds. Even those who try to hide their troubles may sometimes need a shoulder to lean on, a hug, or a listening ear. Those do not cost a cent, but they can mean the world to someone who really needs it.
Image: The Widow’s Mite. By João Zeferino da Costa (1876). From the collection at Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, São Paulo. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.