The Widow's Mite

Author: 
Canon Sophie Jelley, Bishop designate of Doncaster
Date: 
Sunday, June 28, 2020 - 9:30am

 Text:Luke 21: 1-4 – The Widow’s Mite

Money money money – most British people don’t much like talking about money. It isn’t seemly. It’s a personal matter. Its nosey to ask. Actually money and wealth is a striking theme of Luke’s gospel and the bible has quite a lot to say about money. That being the case, British or otherwise it seems to me that money must be something that we become more comfortable discussing. If the bible speaks of it then so should God’s people. 

Money is relative of course. Having lived in one of the poorest parts of the world and also the most affluent I have learned that it is no guarantee of health for the human heart and soul. In and of itself money is neutral, the bible teaches that it is actually our attachment to money that can cause the problem. 

The widow in Luke 21 is free to give, and she does so, more than would be expected of her, just one copper coin would have sufficed in her circumstances. But she pops her two little copper coins in the treasury. It was a place in which the giving was extremely visible. She enters the court of the women in which there would have been large receptacles to post your offering. A bit like one of those display cases when you walk into a museum or cathedral and see notes and coins mounted up inside. People would have been able to see who was giving what and here Jesus has positioned himself in a place where he can see it all. Jesus can see the rich people making a donation in a very public way and then the widow comes to make hers. This was not the awkward passing of the offertory bag around the church pews. Jesus has just spoken about the showy behaviour of the religious types – he has spoken out against their love of status, their flowing robes – something that us clergy often hear as a warning bell in the back of our minds especially in processions at big services. By contrast this widow represents the vulnerable, who under the protection of the law was meant to receive support and help from those in religious authority but instead quietly she comes to make her gift poor and dependant as she was. 

One of the things that I have noticed during this time of coronavirus is the generosity of ordinary people. Whether in our neighbourhood where people have shared home grown produce or freshly laid eggs or just given time to one another while out on a walk for daily exercise. Though not to diminish the suffering that has also happened on a global scale there are also the voices saying can’t we stay like this afterwards in the new era – I don’t really want to go back to the way it was before. 

What we give is often an indication of our priorities. It is often said that our cheque book or online bank statement these days is a good way to test the temperature of the heart – what we spend our money on is a good indication of where we place most value. In these days of lockdown many of us have noticed a real change in our spending habits – without the chance to buy and spend on the things we would normally do especially in relation to our leisure. Churches are having to think through how to maintain that level of generosity as part of our regular lives as disciples when we aren’t meeting in the usual way and perhaps most importantly of all there are causes and people who need help and support financially that we might not usually have been aware of or wouldn’t normally need our help and support. 

The striking thing about this short passage is the contrast between the rich people and the poor widow. Much has been written about the nature and amount of the widow’s gift. In fact it isn’t so much that she gave everything for me it is more about the fact that the one who really should be in receipt of the gift quietly and without show makes a gift of her own – her behaviour is both surprising and provocative. 

We will all have faced our own challenges recently but what if God is challenging us to ask questions and act in ways that are provocative even prophetic pointing us towards a different future?

One of the things that has been exercising many of us and I think especially those of us who are in a privileged position in terms of education, opportunity, wealth and power – is to think about what real Christian generosity is going to look like as individual Christians and church leaders and also as congregations and Christian communities. So the first question that arises for me out of today’s scripture is: 

  1. Who gets to contribute? This widow is quietly playing her part. Her presence is unexpected and her action provocative. One of the challenges facing the church right now is how those who have not been able to add their voice and contribute their gifts are enabled to do so, are we looking around to see where the gaps are with humility and openness even if the answers challenges us. In some areas that might mean we have to position ourselves differently to make room for others. We may need to sit in a different place or position literally or metaphorically to put ourselves in a place where we can notice the things that God wants us to see.

 

  1. How will we receive the gifts of all?  Receive from those who need our help and support. Not in ways that are showy or demonstrate a love of status but in a way that fits with our core vocation as children of God to set captives free, bind up broken hearts and bring liberation for the oppressed. We need the gifts of all God’s people if we really truly want to embrace this mission. 

 

  1. What might our prophetic act be, by way of response? Living as we do in a time when the stark contrast between the rich and the poor the privileged and the disadvantaged is more exposed than ever – perhaps the invitation is to consider How is God calling us to set aside our expectations around who deserves what that we may able to give and receive in a way that honours him and reflects the kingdom of God where the meek the ‘bent low ones’ are the strong and those who mourn area actually the blessed. 

Our generosity is important not because the gift in itself is the focus – notice Jesus doesn’t say what a great gift look at the two coins she gave – instead he draws attention to the contrast between the gifts. 

How will we be different in the future? Throughout this month and the Generous June campaign we are being invited to reflect and respond. What will our generous giving look like? Will it be about more that material things or even money? Who will we give to and who will we receive from? 

So three questions to finish:

  1. Who gets to give in the communities of which we are a part?
  2. How can we receive the gifts of all?
  3. What prophetic act might God be calling us to make or to notice, that challenges both us and the unjust structures around us today?

 

Let us pray: 

Loving God, we see your image generously reflected in the face of your son Jesus Christ and we receive the gift of your generous spirit within us. Help us to reflect your fullness of life, generous in thought and word and deed in this and all our days. 

Amen