I Kings 17:8-16
In today’s Gospel reading, we meet a woman whose name is lost to us forever though we know she was a widow—a poor widow. She gave a tiny offering that day about a penny’s worth of coins. While Jesus and the disciples watched a crowd of people leaving their offerings at the temple, she came and gave what she had. While Jesus watched, she dropped what amounted to a penny into offering box.
What was she thinking when she did that—when she walked up and gave all she had? What would those two tiny coins do for anyone? How could they do anything? Her offering was pretty much worthless. She was a widow and so she had no husband to financially provide for her. What was she thinking giving those last couple of coins? It’s not like the temple was in need of money, at least, not in comparison to someone in her position. It was a huge place with many wealthy people giving sums of money greater than hers many times over. And it’s not like she was giving back to an organization that had been good to her. Jesus had just been pointing out the corruption of the temple scribes—that’s the temple to which she was giving her little bit of money. One of the strongest accusations he made was that they devour the houses of widows—some of the very people that, because of Jewish law, they were suppose to help due to their vulnerability to poverty.
And yet, in go those copper coins—clink clink.
Why? Why would she do that? It makes no sense—I think I would hold on to what little I had to keep from starving to death! It’s not like these wealthy people would help me out—and really, their money means more. I mean, those large gifts can accomplish so much more than what I’m giving. Ha—they should be helping me out anyway, why should I give??
And, yet, she gives. Everything she has.
Jesus turns to his disciples and says—look at her. What does Jesus want us to look at? More scribes? The wealthy family over there? The poor woman? Her? Why? I tell you the truth, he says, THAT woman has put in more than all those others who are giving. What on earth is Jesus talking about? Surely he knows what those little coins are worth doesn’t he? Really, who would think that her gift was more? It’s got to be the least thing given all day! A mere drop in the bucket!
Look, he says, all of those other people, they gave out of their wealth. Their deep pockets full of money are still full of money after a huge offering. But she—she has given it all.
She had given it all. She gave the greatest sacrifice she could.
Now, this is a text that we could look at and say, well, we need to be sure to give more at the offering on Sunday. But the truth is that in comparison to a woman who has only A PENNY to her name, we are the wealthy ones. If we stop with the idea of giving a larger offering, we are missing some really important things. A large offering isn’t what Jesus is commending. He is praising the gift of everything.
When I was in El Salvador on a mission trip to help construct a school for a poor community in a rural area, I was privileged to stay in the home of one of the families of that community. I have seen poverty before, but nothing like this.
A family of four lived in a one room house the size of my office. It had a dirt floor, which the mother swept out daily to be sure there were no scorpions and only a minimum of bugs in the living area. Each day, the young woman would make breakfast for the three American women who stayed with them in this tiny house.
In her outdoor kitchen she would make fried eggs, beans and corn tortillas and serve us on a makeshift cinderblock table while we sat on the ground outside.
It was not until the end of the first meal that we realized that she and her children would not eat until we had eaten all we wanted. Time and again, they gave to us everything they had. I could not understand it then and I can barely explain it now that no matter what we gave to that small family—no matter how much money or how many things—they gave us more because they gave it all.
Like the poor widow, they gave the greatest sacrifice they could. It was not the huge gift they gave me, nor the huge offering the poor widow gave at the temple. It was not expensive items or tons of money.
Jesus commended this poor widow to his disciples—held her up as an example—of true giving. What did she really put in that offering box? Did she put in two coins, or did she put her whole self in?
I think this is what Jesus asks of us: nothing less than an offering of our whole selves—everything we’ve got. Hold nothing back. That’s a lot to ask for.
How can I, how can we, even begin to think about giving everything—about putting all we have – all we are – in an offering box? It seems like it’s too much to ask.
The truth is, we can’t. Not all the time anyway. We don’t know how often the poor widow gave everything she had, but, since she is human like all of us, and we humans are full of doubts, questions and worries, I would guess that there were plenty of times that she was afraid to give all she had. Those are the times that we are afraid to give away any more of ourselves for fear that there will be nothing left—afraid to give even a few more minutes to a friend who needs us to listen. Afraid to give away that extra coat for fear that someone in our own house might need it. Afraid to give up a way of life we’ve always known in order to live a more faithful life.
In our Hebrews text for today, we hear about Jesus’ sacrifice—his offering—given for us. Jesus did not offer over and over a portion of himself to save us. He does not offer us a part of himself. Rather, he gives himself wholly. All he can give. His sacrifice is complete—entire—with nothing left over. In his death on the cross, he has given up every last thing for us. Every breath, every last drop of blood, his whole body, given up for us. He did not just suffer some things or give a part of what he had. He suffered completely—unto death.
He gave all he had—his life. Because of this, he does not take part of our sins from us, he takes them all. All of Jesus is given to us so that all of our sin is taken away. It is through this offering of grace that we are able to begin to offer our own selves. Because of Jesus’ total sacrifice, completely giving of all he had, we can trust in God to provide for us even when it seems impossible. We can stop looking at how much we can give in order to have enough left over for ourselves because Jesus gives us all he has.