Thomas J Parlette
“More than meets the eye”
Mark 12: 38-44
A few years back, the world was treated to a rather amazing announcement. 168 billionaires – yes, that’s billionaires – lined up with Bill Gates, the richest man in the world at that time, Warren Buffet, who was number 2 on that list, to announce that they intended to give away at least half of their wealth by the time they die to help fund a wide variety of worthwhile causes. And it wasn’t just the billionaires getting in on the charitable giving. Even the King of Chinese martial arts movies himself, Jackie Chan, got on Board. I understand that Jackie Chan has announced that he will give away half of his net worth.(1) His giving would amount to just 175 million instead of 500 million or more from the billionaires – but still, it’s a start. I wouldn’t worry too much about these wealthy folks – they’ll still have plenty left over to live on and pass down to their families.
One day Jesus saw a group of wealthy men lining up to give a portion of their wealth at the Temple. They were making a big show of presenting their offerings. They wanted people to be aware of their charity. They used large coins so that when the pieces of money fell into the collection box it made an impressive clanging sound that could be heard by all.
Then along comes this poor widow with only two small coins to drop in the box, an offering with the value of about a penny. That is all she could possibly offer God, that was everything she had.
Probably no one else in the crowd even noticed her giving her offering, it didn’t make a clanging sound, just a little clink. But Jesus noticed her. He called together his disciples and asked them to notice her too. “That widow put more money in the treasury than anybody else, because they shared out of their abundance, but she gave all she had.” So, according to Jesus, the widow’s offering was more significant that Bill Gate’s or Warren Buffet’s billions, because God measures not how much you give, but how much you have left over. If your giving is not sacrificial, apparently, God is not impressed.
Every couple of years we get a visit from this widow, and usually we read this story as Jesus commending her for her generosity, applauding her self-sacrifice and inviting us to do the same. I should know, I’ve preached that message in one way or another on numerous occasions.
But as I read this story again, I wonder, is there more going on here than meets the eye. When you read the story carefully, Jesus never actually commends the widow, he never really applauds her sacrifice or tells us we should emulate her – not in so many words. Preachers like me do that – but Jesus did not What the text says is Jesus noticed her, and tells his disciples to notice her, too.
So what else might be going on here? What might we learn from this widow in addition to self-sacrifice and generosity?
Well, first of all, her act of giving could show that she had forgiven God. Now that might seem like a weird thing to say, but keep in mind, the only way we know this woman is as a widow. She had lost her husband. Some of you have experienced the loss of a spouse or a loved one and you know the hurt and loneliness that loss can bring. You also know about the temptation to bitterness and anger – especially resentment toward God, in many cases.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the ground-breaking book On Death and Dying, in which she described the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some people move through these stages relatively smoothly, while others get bogged down along the way and never really come out on the other side. Most people I know, even when they get to a point of acceptance, or least to a point where they can go on with life, still have moments when they drift back into the stages of grief – particularly anger and depression, or at least a time of deep sadness. And for many people, the anger gets directed at God.
I don’t believe you ever really stop grieving the loss of a loved one – but I do think that over time you spend less time in those stages of anger and depression and more and more time in the stage of acceptance where you remember what you loved most about your loved one.
That’s why I think when this widow, one who had experienced a deep loss, and had probably harbored some resentment and anger toward God somewhere along the way, dropped her two coins in the box, she was in some was saying – “I forgive you God. I’ve come to grips with my grief. I’m over my resentment. I am at peace with God.”
Another thing the widow might be saying is: I trust God. As you know, there was no Social Security, no pension plan, no monthly check she would be receiving now that her husband was gone. Widows were quite vulnerable. Unless her husband was a wealthy man, or her children could take care of her or perhaps other family members would take her in, she was at the mercy of a sometimes heartless society. But by giving her two little coins, this widow was saying: I trust God.
That kind of trust, that kind of confidence, that kind of hope is pleasing to God. The late United Methodist Bishop, Charles Golden, once told of visiting a mission school in India where the students sang an African-American spiritual. They sang it to him as a courtesy, he said, because he was a black man. They sang I Got Shoes – “I got shoes. You got shoes. All God’s children got shoes. When I get to heaven, I’m going to put on my shoes and walk all over God’s heaven.”.
Golden said he suddenly realized that these children singing that old spiritual about having shoes were all barefoot. It reminded him that when his ancestors had composed and sung that song, they too were barefoot. They were singing a song of hope and trust for they knew there were shoes laid up in heaven for them. I may be barefoot right now – these may be my last two coins that I’m dropping in the temple treasury – but God will provide. I trust God. All God’s children got shoes.(2)
And here’s the final thing her offering may have said that day: She believed in the work of God. The work of the Temple was important to her and she wanted to support it, even though some of the leadership was corrupt. She wanted to put God first in her life. She wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself.
Once there was a certain woman who lost her husband, and this woman was having a very difficult time working through the stages of grief. For weeks, she went each day to the cemetery to put flowers on his grave. She simply could not let go. No matter what she did it seemed that her grief would not dissipate. In her despair, she went to her doctor to see if there was any medication he could prescribe. When she told him about taking the flowers each day to the cemetery, her doctor made a suggestion.
He said, “Instead of taking flowers to the cemetery, let me suggest that you take them to the hospital. I have two patients there who are alone. They have no family in town and they would really enjoy receiving some fresh flowers. Just for a day, why not take the flowers to the hospital instead of the cemetery? Ask them about their progress and give them some encouragement. See if there is anything you can do for them.”
The lady took the doctor’s suggestion. She took the flowers to the hospital rather than the cemetery. Then she did it the next day, and the next. And soon she was able to work through her grief.(3) She had discovered that she could be part of something bigger than herself and the grief that was swallowing her whole world.
Those coins, dropped in the Temple treasury that day, may have been an important part of this widow’s recovery from her grief experience. By dropping in those coins she realized she was part of something bigger than herself. She was participating in God’s work on earth. No wonder Jesus was pleased to see her make her offering. No wonder he pointed her out to his disciples. She had been victorious over her grief. She trusted God for her daily bread and she was involved in the ongoing work of the Kingdom. In fact, in God’s eyes this more poor window gave more that all the billionaires in the world put together. She gave all of herself.
May that be true for all of us.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, p33.
2. Ibid… p35.
3. Ibid… p36.