Holding Nothing Back

widows-mite

A picture of radical faith that humbles me each time I read the story of the widow’s gift. But in my recent reading of the story I have more questions than answers.

Picture the scene. The city was crowded for the Passover celebration. People came from all over to give their tithes and offerings to the Lord. Many rich people threw in large amounts. Can you not hear the sound of their coins clanging against the receptacles? Unnoticed among the proud and prominent was a little widow. This humble widow, poorly dressed, sorry that she could give no more, gave her tiny gift and slipped away hoping that she had not been noticed. But she was!

This woman is a hero of my faith. Her act of giving was not foolish and was not undertaken light heartedly. She gave all that she had because there was no other way for her to give, so convinced was she of God’s faithfulness to her and His character.

It is interesting that, just before Jesus commented on the widow’s gift, He remarked on the religious leaders “who devour widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). The religious leaders of the day, instead of helping the widows in need, were perfectly content to rob them of their livelihood and inheritance. The system was corrupt, and the darkness of the scribes’ greed makes the widow’s sacrifice shine even more brightly.

It made no sense for a widow to donate her last few coins to a corrupt institution in Jerusalem. But in that woman’s act, Jesus saw a moving display of the proper attitude toward giving.

And looking at the story through this lens prompts a number of questions.

What is the reason that someone who has nothing feels compelled to give from that lack to the Temple (or church or charity or whatever)? Who seeks to benefit from this exchange? We know who certainly stands to lose.  The widow is so inspired by God that she is willing to give all she has. Even in her poverty, she still believes she has something to give, even if she has been wrongfully manipulated into that belief.

What was this woman wanting to support when she gave this money? The religious leader’s’ latest fancy robes? The temple building? No, she believed in the mission of God and she was willing to support that mission. And when people give that level of support, there’s no end to what we can accomplish.

Can I suggest that Jesus may not be praising this woman’s reckless generosity but simply acknowledging the sinful reality of the abusive behaviour of the religious professionals, it begs the question, why doesn’t he stop her, explain to her how she’s been betrayed and misled and urge her to keep her money? In light of his goal in cleansing the temple, which is to give the people some control back over their spiritual lives, he doesn’t want to take away this woman’s power.

I heard a story a pastor tells of a widow whose income was barely adequate to feed and clothe her six children. Yet every week she faithfully placed $4 in the offering plate. It was suggested that the pastor go to her and assure her that she could use the money instead for her family’s benefit.

Following that advice—to his regret. “You are trying to take away the last thing that gives me dignity and meaning,” she said. She had learned a key to giving: It can benefit the giver more than the receiver. Yes, those in poverty need financial help. But the need to give may be as important as the need to receive.

What was she really saying when she gave all she had to live on? She was demonstrating her faith in God to supply her needs. She loved the Lord and was grateful to Him. She was not embittered by self-pity she was not expecting any handouts. She was simply entrusting herself to God.

This act of giving reminds me that I am living by grace of God. Giving offers for me a way to express my confidence that God will care. By her giving she acknowledged God as the Source of all she needed, that He knew her needs and she was willing to trust Him to provide one day at a time. That is radical faith.

What does Jesus see that we overlook? The big gifts in the temple were surely noticed by people; that’s probably what the disciples were watching. But Jesus saw what no one else did: He saw the humble gift of a poor widow. This was the gift that Jesus thought worthy of comment. This was the gift that the disciples needed to be aware of. The other gifts in the treasury that day made a lot of noise as they jingled into the receptacles, but the widow’s gift were heard in heaven. Calling his disciples, He said, “She gave more than all the others.”

After reading this again I have issued a personal challenge for myself.

Where am I giving from, and what am I holding back? Am I giving from abundance? And if so, why I am I holding on to so much when I know that everything I hold back from God is exactly what separates me from him? So often I tend to hold something back from His abundance bestowed on me. The blessed life is the life of the widow, the life of she who gives, and she who trusts.

No wonder Jesus commended her. Actions are costly. God did not need her to give, but she needed to give. Do you honestly think that God was going to let her down after such an expression of faith? I am sure there was bread on her table that day.

I leave you with a song I learned many years ago

And is it so? A gift from me
Do you, dear Lord, request?
Then speak thy will, whatever it be:
Obeying, I am blest.

Chorus
I have not much to give you, Lord,
For that great love which made thee mine:
I have not much to give you, Lord,
But all I have is thine.

And do you ask a gift from me:
A loving, faithful heart?
‘Tis thine, for you on Calvary
For me with all didst part.

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