Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
“Money makes the World go round.”
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.”
“Money, money, money in a rich man’s world.”
Simple song segments from ‘Cabaret’, ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Abba’. Together they point to the importance, the desirability, and the power of money.
Throughout English literature there is a running theme of money. People get it, lose it, marry into it and are desperate to hang on to it. Dickens, Trollope, Hardy, Austen they all inhabit this money dependent world. No one saw it in clearer terms than Thackeray in his ‘Vanity Fair’, his name for the crazy ‘money is everything’ world of English ‘high society’. Or as Harry Enfield put it a ‘Loads – a – Money’ society.
People often think of Jesus as always talking about good and bad, sin and forgiveness or heaven and hell but in fact money was one of his main subjects. He talks about rich men and poor men, big expensive banquets, loosing and finding treasure and of how ‘Mammon’ can become our master. The story of the widow’s offering is a classic example. It is a story full of sadness at the state of the poor woman but also of admiration for her piety and reckless generosity.
A few years ago on a bright sunny Sunday morning the congregation of our church in Bradford was gathering for worship. There was a particular buzz amongst our young people who were all planning to go to Soul Survivor.
Today they were paying in the £120 to the youth leaders to pay for the trip. We were a fairly affluent church and most of the teenagers were simply handing in cheques written by their parents, except Charlie. Charlie was a financially struggling student, he had raised the money by a combination of skimping and odd jobbing and he was paying his costs in cash.
Five minutes before the start of the service Nick walked in. He had been part of our church before going off to be a youth worker in a poor part of East London and so I got him up to share with us all during the worship. Nick told us how he was seeing some of his young people becoming Christians and that he was planning to take some of them off to Soul Survivor during the summer. However, none of his kids had much money and so they were desperately fund raising. At the end of the service Charlie told our youth team that he wasn’t going to Soul Survivor after all, he withdrew his £120 from them and gave it all to Nick to aid his struggling East End teenagers. It was a ‘widow’s penny’ moment.
When I was a young Christian my wonderful vicar at the time had a favourite saying, ‘The last part of a person to be converted was their pocket’. Every time I heard him say this I sort of turned away because it hit the bull’s eye in my soul. I loved money and the things it could give me. My money was my money. I needed all of it to buy trendy clothes, music, books and to generally have a good time. I was a fully endorsed member of ‘Vanity Fair’. It was only years later through the natural and spontaneous generosity of my wife that I slowly and rather painfully discovered the joy of giving.
Now is the moment to stop and ask yourself the question about your own generosity.
Are you giving out of your abundance or out of your poverty?
How much do you give? And who do you give it to?
Help me to hear this story,
And to be changed by it.
May you reach your hand into my pocket,
And set me free.