1 Kings 17.8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44
Jesus says that the widow has given more with her two small coins than those who gave many more, because those two coins were all she had left to live on, everything she had. So often this story is interpreted as a story about an exemplary giver. So what are we supposed to do? Give everything we have? Let’s be realistic, that’s not going to happen. So what are we supposed to do? Then feel guilty about the fact that realistically we aren’t going to give everything away? Are we resigned to be the rich who give some portion? We never get to be the hero of the story? If this moral of this “stewardship” story is to duplicate the widow’s actions, then we’re sunk, it’s just not possible.
But you will notice that Jesus never tells his disciples that this widow should be the model for all giving to the church. He notices her, draws their attention to her and says she puts in more. That’s all.
This story is not as simple as “be like the widow” because the stories in our Scripture aren’t simple fables. There are most certainly lessons to be learned from these stories, but their sole purpose is not to drive home one moral point after another. The parables and stories of Jesus, especially, are most often complex with many layers of meaning. The Bible is a living document. It meets us where we are, throughout thousands of years and around the world. It continues to be interpreted and understood in new and life-giving ways as we study and read together.
So yes, this is a “stewardship” story about giving - there are lessons here about sacrificial giving, and how we give. But this story is about so much more than that.
First of all, Jesus is calling attention to a widow, something no man, especially not a respected teacher, would ever do. In Jesus’ culture, widows had no value. So right away, we see Jesus shining a light on the invisible in society. And by calling attention to this woman, Jesus is pointing out not just her, but a corrupt system. Hebrew scripture, what those scribes knew all about, calls the church community to care for the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, because the culture would not. And so if this woman only has two coins to her name, this is the fault (perhaps ironically) of those to whom she is giving her coins: the temple authorities, the scribes.
Jesus is not simply pointing out a model giver, Jesus is opening the disciples’ eyes to a victim of a deeply broken system. And that system that has left her destitute is taking every penny she has. As much as we may respond to this story with respect and admiration for the woman’s gift, Jesus is also showing us we should be horrified the she was put in that position to begin with.
This Jesus makes my heart swell. This Jesus who cares so much for the individual widows and lepers and prostitutes he meets that he will stand up and tell the truth about the corrupt power and the misuse of Scripture that have so deeply hurt these people. This Jesus who will NOT stop standing up to tell the truth in love, even as he carries his own cross to the top of a mountain. This Jesus gives me hope. Hope for myself and this world. Hope for an imperfect church and a corrupt world. This Jesus invites us to look at the bigger picture. To not only help those who are hungry, homeless, and terrified, but to ask - why are they hungry, homeless, and terrified in the first place? And when we ask why, we are able to work toward an end to the causes of these systemic problems.
This may seem a daunting task, but then I think of a bag of acorns. I think of the bounty of gifts we will bring forward in a few moments. I think of God, who never gives up, and is always delighted to kneel down next to us, dig in the dirt, and plant another seed. And though our gifts, our talents, our seeds may seem small and insignificant, with God, they can transform the world from darkness into light.