He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4)
So, I’m reading of the poor widow who placed her two pennies into the treasury plate at the Temple. If you’ve attended church for more than a couple of years you’ve probably heard her mentioned at least a few times.
Two pennies. All she had.
Among the wealthy and spiritually superior residents in first century Israel, poverty suggested God’s disfavor. To be a widow and poor compounded that perception. And don’t think for a moment she was unaware of the snickers behind her back, or the way some people gave her wide berth as she shuffled along the dirt roads. But there she was at the Temple treasury, giving to God all she had to live on.
My wife and I have been in difficult financial positions in our past, and I can tell you it is not uncommon for some who live in quiet desperation to wonder if God is deaf to their prayers. I wonder if this widow wondered the same thing from time to time.
As I closed the Scriptures for the morning I thought about two people I know whose lives contrast for me the widow – and of those unlike her.
Thirty-eight year old Thomas (he pronounces it, Toe-MAS) has a chronic and slowly debilitating medical condition. He can still work at an office job completing menial tasks, but knows his days are numbered because of his deteriorating health. And he worries about his future.
Thomas has not been in a church in years. Decades, actually. Not because he doesn’t believe in God. He does. It’s just that (so he told me) he’s always been made to feel like an outcast by others each time he visited one church or another – until he just gave up trying.
Yet, despite the disapproval and disregard of church-goers, Thomas has not given up on God. He still prays, reads the Bible, and supports those in need as often as he can.
Trent, though, is a different story. Barely forty, the corporate executive pulls in a six-figure income and is married to another corporate executive also pulling in a six-figure income. Trent hasn’t been in a church in years. He doesn’t believe in that ‘nonsense,’ as he calls it. He and his wife spend their Sundays relaxing by their home pool, or visiting weekend vacation spots within driving distance of their home in the suburbs of New York. The thought of contributing any of their abundance to the work of God is as far from their worldview as, well, as east is from west.
Back to the poor widow.
Without wealth, without family, without social support or interaction – she was one of her society’s invisibles. But she would serve her God as best she could, even if her best was a couple of pennies.
Thomas reminds me of that widow. He lives near poverty, alone, working a menial job, and discarded by religious folk he’s met. He told me he sometimes wonders if God even knows his name.
Trent reminds me of those in this gospel story who thought themselves too self-sufficient, too self-important to even acknowledge God, or to notice what He notices – the invisible among us.
Whatever our position in life, whatever our health, wealth, or talent – we can live with the faith of a Thomas – faltering and hesitating as it might be; Or we can live with the spiritual and material arrogance of a Trent.
Two thousand years after Luke recorded this story, who do we remember best?
Follow me on Twitter @richmaffeo