And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44)
At first we may be tempted to look at these two accounts separately, but I don’t believe this is what Mark intended. After careful consideration, it is obvious what Jesus says concerning scribes is directly related to the story about the poor widow. The scribes “devour widows’ houses” and use the money in the treasury to purchase “long robes” and lavish feasts. The widow belongs to the group whose houses are being devoured, and what is she doing? She is giving all she has to the treasury that is being abused by the scribes. This is not just a simple story about corruption and giving. It goes much deeper.
When it comes to giving, we can sometimes spend so much time questioning where are money is going that we either neglect to give or completely miss the point of what it means to give. We may ask a person in need of assistance so many questions that our generosity becomes viewed as a burden rather than a gift. Instead of being committed to giving, we are more interested in micro-managing our funds. We do not want to let go until we know that everything checks out.
The corruption of the scribes that Jesus speaks of must have been well known. The scribes were not trying to hide anything. Their abuse was on full display. They were wearing it around. Everyone knew what was going on, and yet the widow does not withhold her offer. She gives even though she must know her gift will be used for some corrupt cause. Her focus is not on what may or may not be corrupt. Her heart is completely devoted to giving.
This is hard for some of us. We may want to chastise the widow for being foolish, or we may think this is wasteful, and yet she is praised for what she does. Why does Jesus commend this widow for giving her money to corrupt leaders who will do nothing but waste it? The widow is what all Christians should be. She puts her trust in God. She relies on God to take care of her. She gives because it is what she is supposed to do. She does not question the motives or intentions of others. She is faithful to what God has called her to do. She is also willing to be defrauded if it means following God. She gives even though she knows she will be taken advantage of. This is the example of Jesus. Jesus gave his life even though he knew he would be beaten, spit upon, and crucified. There is something bigger behind the corruption. The widow and Jesus both believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil.
Following in the footsteps of the widow is costly. It is about much more than reaching into our pocketbooks. It is about having a giving and faithful heart. It is about seeing the speck of light in the middle of the darkness. Evil is not pretty, and it is very dangerous. We often want to stand far away and build a wall to make sure it cannot come near. This makes us feel safe, but it is not always best for the mission of the church. Both Jesus and the widow enter into the darkness in the hopes of transforming it. Sure their gifts will be abused, but maybe, just maybe, the grace they offer will transform the corrupt lives of the people who receive it.
If we are going to turn the world upside down, then we must look at how we give. This is not just about money. It is about giving food, medical care, and ultimately ourselves. The widow lets go of everything so that she can give freely. She does not allow her love for money, possessions, or power to hold her back. The widow is freer than the scribes, and this allows her to give freely. A gift should be exactly that. The person receiving the gift should not feel guilty, burdened, or indebted to the giver. What we give should be a glimpse of the grace God has showed us.
We often worry about where what we have goes. Christians are known for this. We are the ones boycotting Starbucks, Disney, etc. You can find long lists of places online that Christians are supposed to boycott. We worry if the homeless person we gave two dollars to is going to spend that money on booze. Jesus does not seem to worry that the widow gave her money to a corrupt system, but he does seem to be very interested in the way she gives. Is her giving meaningful? Does it cost her anything? Does she give freely? We should probably spend more time worrying about how we give than who we give to. As we are worrying about how a homeless man is going to spend two dollars, Jesus is probably more concerned that we only gave two dollars, a gift that comes out of our abundance.
We must pay attention to the details of this small story in the Gospel of Mark because it holds the key to the life God is calling us to live. It is a life of sacrifice, a life where we give out of our poverty rather than our abundance. It is a life that values human beings more than things. We freely invest in the lives of others because we know they are of more significance than our bank account. It is a life that believes in the power of grace over darkness. It sees the image of God in people who seem to be desperately lost. It is a life that freely gives to those who do not deserve a gift because we understand this is what God did for us. To follow in the footsteps of the widow is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.