41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Periodically we see on the news that a celebrity has given money to a charitable cause. Perhaps a pop star has paid for a high-tech wheelchair for a fan. Maybe an actor donates some cash to save a regional theatre from closure. Sometimes we might even hear that a well-known ‘worship leader’ from a big church has just paid for a new school in some far-flung country. Of course, it’s always great when a good cause benefits from a sizeable donation, but in my cynicism I often wonder when the pop star’s next album is coming out, or if the actor is starring in a film opening soon. I even find myself asking if the ‘worship leader’ has a concert for which tickets aren’t selling as fast as he would have hoped. Too often these gifts, seemingly an act of generosity, are given for ulterior motives. Often these motives are more about raising the profile of the giver than benefitting the recipient. And if we hear about these gifts on the news, or read about them in the paper, then they have served their purpose as far as the celebrity is concerned. Sometimes the actual gift can even be written off against tax, so cost less than we might think. Perhaps I’m being cynical. Maybe I should be rejoicing in the generosity of people such a these. After all, gifts such as these can often transform the lives of the beneficiaries.
In today’s passage, we benefit from Jesus’ teaching on giving. We see him once again in the temple, watching as people drop their gifts into the offering box. Jesus sees the rich bringing their large gifts, and a poor widow bring her seemingly insignificant copper coins. Yet it is not the rich that Jesus commends, but the poor widow.
Jesus recognises that the gift of the poor widow is far more significant than that of the rich people, for she gives everything she has. Her gift is sacrificial. Whilst the rich will go home and not notice that they are a little poorer than they were when they set out, they will still tuck into fancy food in their comfortable homes. The poor widow, however, will really feel the impact of her gift, even though it was small. She gave all she had, and may well go hungry that evening as a consequence. Jesus recognises this, and reserves his praise for the widow. She has shown the extent of the love that she has for God by giving him everything.
Are we more like the rich people or the poor widow? Do we give everything we have, or do we just drop a few coins into the plate on Sunday? We have even more reason to be generous than the poor widow. Jesus gave quite literally everything for us. He left heaven to be with us on earth. He died for us on the cross, taking the punishment that should have been ours for disobeying God. He withheld nothing and gave everything. In return he wants our lives: our money, our time, our gifts, our intellect, everything we have. It is our attitude that is important. Is our attitude one of complete dedication to following Jesus, or are we Sunday morning Christians, turning up to church once a week but otherwise neglecting our relationship with Christ? Do we give for attention, or so that we’re seen to be giving, like the ‘generous’ celebrities, or do we give because we are dedicated to following Christ, to serving him in all that we do?
The poor widow holds back nothing in her gift to the temple. She could have kept one of the coins back in order to buy something to eat on her return home, but she gave everything. As Christians, do we give everything to Jesus, or is there some element of our lives that we hold back? Is there something that we do that we know Jesus would not approve of, or something that we know that we should be doing that we don’t? Perhaps we engage in pre-marital sex. Maybe we gamble. Perhaps we don’t love our neighbours. Maybe we hate our boss. By committing acts that we know displease God, or failing to do things that we know he demands of us, we are holding something back in our relationship with Jesus. We’re not honouring him fully. We’re like the rich people in the temple, creating an illusion of serving God, whilst ultimately we’re holding back. We need instead to be like the poor widow, giving everything we have to God. Until we do that, it will always feel like our faith is lacking something. Of course, honouring God with our whole lives is difficult. It requires a complete shift in focus, but ultimately it will be worth it. Our lives will feel as if they have purpose. We’ll know with certainty that we are destined for heaven, to eternal life in God’s new creation. So let’s strive to be like the poor widow, giving everything she has, rather than like the rich people, holding back so much of what we have to give.
Of course, sometimes it can seem futile bringing our particular gifts to God. We see people who have given everything that they have and think that their “everything” is worth much more than ours. Perhaps we listen to a preacher and think that we could never do that, or read a book and think that nothing we write could ever be that good. If we play a musical instrument maybe we feel inadequate when we listen to people playing at church because they’re so much better than we are. Surely it’s better to leave serving God to people who are better than us?
This is the wrong attitude to take, tempting as it may be. Look back at the widow in the passage. She could have thought that her two copper coins were worthless compared to all that the rich were giving, but she gave them anyway. She knew that, though she had little, God could still use it. I know of a preacher who I regard as superb, from whom I’ve learnt a great deal, who really struggles because he thinks that he is useless. He still preaches, though, and God uses him. I’m sure I’m not alone in having been touched by his words. I certainly wouldn’t regard myself as a good writer, but I know that God can use my wafflings and perhaps if I allow myself to be guided by the Holy Spirit as I write, there’s a possibility that something I write could help someone in their faith. God can use us all, and everything we do, no matter how useless, poor or inadequate we feel ourselves to be. Let’s not hold back anything, therefore, but give ourselves entirely to the service of our God.
I bet when that poor widow dropped those two coins into the temple offer box, she had no idea that we would still be talking about her two thousand years or so later. She knew that if she gave all she had, though, that God would use her gift for the glory of his kingdom. And that’s exactly what has happened, because she has been held up as a role model for generations of Christians. Jesus gave everything he had for us, so let’s endeavour to give everything that we have back to him. It may be hard but the reward for doing so is immeasurable.