|Chalk used by sketch artist outside Notre Dame de Strasbourg|
When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy peopleputting their offerings into the treasuryand he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest;for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” Luke 21:1-4
This is a familiar gospel story, one I remember from my years in a Catholic grade school under the care and supervision of the Sisters of Mercy from Omaha. Until recently, its meaning for me had not changed much. It speaks to generosity in giving. Even though the rich people may have given more than the widow in absolute terms, her gift of two small coins represents a great percentage of her limited, if any, wealth and thus she was the more generous. So if I donate to charity a recommended ten percent of my income, should I be satisfied that I am being all that generous when others with substantially less resources give a smaller amount but one which may far exceed that ten percent benchmark? Who is the more generous? The answer is obvious.
The motivation for giving is important as well. In another version of the story (Mark 12:41-44), Jesus prefaces it with the following:
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Mark 12: 38-40
Clearly the teachers of the law and some wealthy people are giving because of the social status it confers. Those who give large gifts even into the billions of dollars receive enormous social benefits. They are routinely respected and sought after. They are praised for their generosity. Buildings and endowments carry their names. There is nothing necessary nefarious about this but it does reduce the cost of giving by providing benefits back to the donor. It is not ;surprising that those who create and operate Ponzi schemes typically make large and very public donations as a way of establishing a social status of success and public spiritedness.
All that aside, I recently came to see the fundamental message of this short story as something other generosity or charitable contributions. The point is about a commitment to the message of Jesus that he has come to establish a kingdom of peace, justice and compassion. His message is seen as dangerous by the powers that be and their regimes. So those who follow Jesus and his message must be silenced, one way or the other. What is needed is a whole hearted commitment to follow Jesus. A carefully calculated ten percent contribution may be acceptable to the world but it is not enough in the kingdom. It does not require a financial contribution but a commitment of the heart. Am I with Jesus or not? Just being with him a little bit is not enough, not even close.