The Gospel of Mark tells a story about Jesus and the disciples sitting by the Temple treasury one day, watching people bringing their donations. They watched some “rich people” donate large amounts, says Mark, although one has to wonder what or how one would qualify as “rich” in a country occupied by the Romans. Then, a poor widow arrives and puts in a couple of small coins, all that she has, and walks away. Jesus tells the disciples that she has given more than even the richest person because they had so much and gave only a piece of it, but she gave everything she had.
Okay, Jesus didn’t say that. That was me being cynical. But you can’t tell me that it hasn’t occurred to anyone to wonder about this woman’s motivation. She gave away all that she had. Now what? Let’s be discerning for a minute.
For so long, we’ve heard this story used in church fundraising. This poor widow is truly generous and gives with a sense of abundance in her heart. Yes, absolutely, she is an example of generosity to be emulated. Where does she give “all that she has?” To the Temple, the very people who should be most involved in the care of the widow, the poor, the sick, the needy.
We don’t hear any more about this widow than Jesus commenting on her example, but I’m sure we can safely assume that she was suitably thanked for her generosity and further, lived happily ever after in the care and safekeeping of the Temple authorities.
Or can we?
Jesus’ relationship with the Temple authorities – the pharisees, scribes and sadduccees – is well known. They didn’t like Jesus’ teaching and felt threatened by it. But Jesus was also very critical of their behaviour, mostly that they didn’t live the law and the faith that they proclaimed. Right before this story, Mark tells of Jesus warning people about “the scribes” who like to dress up, expect to be respected and to be honoured, but their heart is not in it. Beware those who do it for show, Jesus says.
But the widow doesn’t. Or she sees something different. Either way, I don’t think the point here is just her generosity. I think it’s about believing in where she offered her generosity. Right or wrong, she has faith in the Temple and believes that is where she should put all she has. Is she right to do so? We don’t find out for sure, but perhaps that’s the point – to ask the questions and be discerning.
Maybe that shouldn’t just apply to the Temple. Governments, businesses, charities all ask for our trust that they deliver what they say.
So there’s two sides to this. The first is that we be discerning about what we believe in, that we what we support with our finances, resources, even lives, should truly honour what we intend. And that, of course, should reflect our love, grace and compassion as children of God.
The other is that we honour what is given, first with thanks, but also with the gratitude of being true to what is promised for it. In other words, we be worthy of the gifts given to us.
As I write that, I find I’m struggling with the language because I’m not thinking of it in the context of the church or temple, but Remembrance Day. So many have given so much. Have we honoured that gift of sacrifice by living out its promise? Have we taken care of those who gave, their families and their communities? And when we ask those questions, let’s not ask them one day, but every day.