26 November 2012

The Widow's Mite

"The Widow's Mite" by James Tissot

[Jesus] 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."
-St. Luke 21:1-4
We know exactly where Jesus was when he said this. In the Temple there were the various Courts – the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites, the Court of the Priests, all gathered around the Holy of Holies. A person would go through these various Courts to get to the next one, as far as he was allowed. In this particular passage, Jesus was speaking in the Court of the Women. Men could be there, but women could go no further. Located there were thirteen collecting boxes known as the Trumpets. They were shaped like trumpets with the narrow part at the top and the wider part at the foot. Each one was assigned to offerings for a different purpose - for the wood that was used to burn the sacrifice, for the incense that was burned on the altar, for the upkeep of the golden vessels, and so on. It was near these Trumpets that Jesus was sitting.

He looked up and saw several people putting their offerings into the Trumpets, including a poor widow. All she had in the world was two “lepta.” A lepton was the smallest of all coins; the name means "the thin one." It was worth only a fraction of a penny, but Jesus said that it far out-valued all the other offerings, because it was everything she had.

He was calling attention to some important points. When it comes to a gift, there’s the spirit in which it’s given. A gift which is given unwillingly, a gift which is given with a grudge, a gift given for the sake of prestige or of self-display loses a lot of its value. The only real gift is that which is the outflow of the loving heart, something given because the giver cannot help it.

And there’s the sacrifice which the gift involves. Something which is virtually nothing to one person may be a huge amount to somebody else. That day in the Temple, the gifts of the rich, as they flung their offerings into the Trumpets, didn’t really cost them very much; but the two lepta of the widow cost her everything she had. The rich had probably calculated how much they could afford; she gave with a kind of reckless generosity which could give no more.

Giving does not begin to be real giving until it hurts. A gift shows our love only when we have had to do without something or have had to work doubly hard in order to give it. This was the point Christ was making.