And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on." (Mark 12:41-44 NASB)
This past week I spent a week of continuing education at week 2 of TheUpper Room’s Academy of Spiritual Formation. With other Christians, we journeyed with author Linda Douty as she spoke on spiritual practices and Rabbi David Horowitz who helped us make connections between Christianity and our Jewish roots. At one point David shared with us a story of going to see a lady from his synagogue who was dying. As he walked into the room of the hospital she said, Rabbi David, I’m going to see your boss soon. Do you want me to deliver any messages?” In response, David said, “Yes, tell him to speak more clearly, we keep having a hard time hearing what you’re saying!”
Now, if you have sat with me in almost any Bible Study or small group, you’ll likely have heard me say that it isn’t the things I don’t understand God say that are hard but the ones that I do understand. I think the Rabbi would agree that there are times God is very clear but that is for another time.
You see, this story is one that may not be as clear as we think. Some would consider this story from Mark’s gospel a poor text to use on a Celebration Sunday like today. Why? In it’s context, Jesus has been speaking about corruption in the Temple. It speaks about those who drop down money in the plate with little thought or concern. Yet there is more to it.
It is like the story of the Sunday School class where the teacher asked the children if they thought it good to give $1,000,000.00 to missionaries to which they responded, “Yes!” What about a $1,000.00? “Yes!” What about $100? Yes! What about $1? To which all but Jenny said, “Yes!” The teacher asked Jenny, “Why didn’t you say yes to $1?” “Well,” she said, “this time I Have a dollar!”
We read 2 Corinthians 9:7 and are reminded that “God loves a cheerful giver." The text never says the opposite though. I can't find the text where God hates a mad giver. Rabbi David taught us an important element of Jewish spirituality called, “TZEDAKA” commonly translated “charity.” “Jews,” he said, "don’t give because it is the right thing to do but because God commands it.” There are 8 degrees of Tzedaka, and God honors all of them starting with the first degree of giving grudgingly.
Now Jesus said, out of all she had, this widow put in everything. This is a Jewish rabbi observing a Jewish woman. We have no idea what level of tzedaka but we know that she gave, we know that her small amoung was more than all others and it was she who Jesus honored, I think, because she didn’t just believe, which is easy to say, but she did something: what she could.
We have shared these past few weeks all the good, the charity, the tzedaka through Cumming FUMC because of the giving. Right now, there are many who feel anxious about their finances or are experiencing it in their homes. Some in this very worship space. As part of Celebration Sunday, you’re not being asked to sign a contract but to estimate your giving, your step, your tzedaka for the coming year so that together, we might prepare and move forward as God’s people and offer the same to a world who doesn’t care if we believe in God but cares if we believe enough to do something.