After a very long election campaign, we now have a brand new Prime Minister who was sworn in this week amongst great pomp and ceremony. But behind the glitz and glamour of our dashing new PM, we know there are real issues that surfaced for us as Canadians during all the campaigning. Affordable housing, food prices, refugees. These are troubling matters that affect far too many of us.
Here in our own neighbourhoods, the North York Food Bank served 180 thousand families just last year. Our community supper in this parish feeds up to 80 people each week. And with Christmas just around the corner, we know that many of those who are most vulnerable among us will be hoping for warm welcome, a good meal, and perhaps a gift for a child.
“And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.”
We know we live in a crazy world today, where there is a growing gap between those who are wealthy in material things and those who don’t have enough—or are so often cast out, marginalized.
And we know that all too often, it is those who have the least who are most generous. And here, in the famous example of the widow’s mite, we see Jesus bringing to light this very issue.
We know that poverty takes many forms—material poverty might be the most obvious but what about poverty as feeling like an outsider? What about poverty as loneliness? Or feeling like you’re not much, most of the time?
This is a tale of two cities, a kind of ancient near-eastern compare and contrast. First we hear of the scribes, those proud law-abiding holy men (they could be women today too!) who love their place of honour. They remind me of some well-meaning church gatekeepers I have known—making note of who was “in” and who was “out.” Do we sometimes feel like that?
“Beware of the scribes…who have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts…who devour widows’ houses.”
I have been here in your midst for just such a short time, and already I have been touched by your welcome and prayerfulness. And serving alongside you in a ministry capacity as your student is opening me up to my own questions about faith, my longing for God…my own poverty. Do we know our own inabilities and pride? Sometimes these are hard things to admit.
But listen to what Jesus does next. He goes and sits across from the treasury, out of the way, probably on the dusty ground.
There were 13 chests where the offerings would have been put into—all out in the open, so everyone could see who was putting in what. It was kind of a competitive charity situation.
And that’s the way most things in the ancient culture went. This was a society built upon honour—and shame. There were those who had status, and those who were shamed. And the character who enters next was one of those shamed.
Jesus watches the widow—the woman without a husband, without a family, without a pension, the lowest on the socio-economic ladder walk in and put two coins into the chest—two tiny coins which together made only a penny.
“Truly I say to you this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
She didn’t just put in some money. The widow emptied her whole life into that chest. In a bold act of faithfulness, in a bold gesture of humility, she gave it all up.
Today, we remember those faithful members of the congregation that gave their whole lives for this country of Canada. They made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of peace.
For the widow, her sacrifice came not from a place of self-sufficiency—a place of pride, where she was in control of her own life, but of brokenness, poverty.
Could it be that she is responding to the radical call of faith from Christ?
Can we make the same response as we come to know our own poverty—the poverty that is not only all around us to see and feel—a gnawing hunger because the cheque is spent before the month is up, but also that deep sense of “I just can’t do this on my own”?
Isn’t it amazing when we notice, time and time again, in the gospel accounts, where Jesus does his best work with what looks like nothing? With our emptiness, our brokenness, and our poverty of spirit? When we are too certain, too full, too puffed-up, too like the scribes, he can’t use us. His power can do nothing in us when we already are the gods of our own lives.
But look at how Jesus responds to the widow. She gives those coins, expecting shame and derision from the onlookers. What does she receive? A commendation from the Saviour of the world—the only one whose opinion actually matters, as he sits across from her gazing lovingly at her gesture of radical generosity.
This Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus is teaching us about and showing us an upside down kingdom here. A kingdom in which those who are humble are closer to God. A kingdom where the poor are rich. Because, unlike the scribes, there is less in the way between us and God—when we admit our own poverty.
And so what do we do with this new lens? How do we respond to this good news story?
Could the answer to that question be as simple and profound as cultivating the humility and radical generosity of the widow?
Could the answer be a renewed commitment by each of us to grow as faithful stewards of all that God provides?
Yes, and we can do this, with God’s help. By spending time with him in prayer each morning—re-reading Sunday’s Gospel from your own bible at home, by daily confession—repentance—which is turning our lives back to God, and by participating in the great feast of thanksgiving here in the Eucharist each Sunday, we too, can be transformed into Christ’s likeness.
Just as the widow was able to offer her whole self to God when she had nothing but two tiny coins and a whole lot of faith, we too can offer our lives to Christ, despite our own poverty, as a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.