church-offering

Throwing Pennies at God

You know the story of the widow’s mite?  How Jesus said this widow throwing her last two pennies into the collection box was more faithful than those putting in large amounts from their wealth?  I always read the story and assumed that the widow was giving her last two pennies out of reverence.  But lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been that woman throwing her last coins into the Salvation Army bucket.  And it wasn’t often done out of reverence.  When I was younger, I might put my penny in so I wouldn’t feel bad about walking past the bucket without putting anything in.  Sometimes I did put my last coins in as a way of saying, “I know it’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got.  I’ll just trust you to provide the increase.”  A few times though, I put my last coins in as an act of protest and complaint; “You want everything?  Fine take my last pennies.  I do my best, I trust in you and I get left with nothing but a couple of pennies.”

Research has found that poorer people give more of their money away than others.  A lot of that is because the amounts given as often so small that you weren’t going to do much with the money anyways.   It occured to me that maybe the widow wasn’t so sanguine about her life and her struggles either.  Two copper coins wasn’t worth much.   It would barely have bought food for one meal.  And then what?  Maybe that widow too had been walking this path for too long.  Maybe she was more broken than obedient and was throwing those copper pieces as a form of defiance and challenge to God?  Maybe that was exactly what Jesus saw her doing when he praised her action.  I know that if at one of those moments, God had praised those pennies I threw at him, it would have meant everything to me.

Maybe Jesus knew she was discouraged and angry when she put those coins in.  But at least she was throwing them in the right direction.  Even if it was done as a compaint, at least it showed that she believed strongly enough in God’s power to be upset at its seeming absence in her life.  What if it was a challenge to God to show himself.  To remind the world of what He was capable of.  And Jesus was there to see it.

So often we think God needs to be handled with kid’s gloves.  That we cann0t challenge, protest or complain because God doesn’t need our input.  But what if that’s not the way God sees it?  What if he’s just waiting for us to throw our pennies at him.  To say that we’ve had enough.  We’re ready for him.  The time to move has come.  What if God’s just waiting for us to be fed up enough with the mess we’ve made to invite him in.  Maybe we need to reach that point in order to be willing to let Him move the way He has planned instead of demanding it be done the way we would prefer.

*It’s a repeat from December 2011. Hopefully I’ll get something new out soon.

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2 thoughts on “Throwing Pennies at God

  1. The gospel of Mark frequently employs a literary strategy where three sequential episodes are all related. There is an alternate interpretation of the widow’s offering that takes into account the possibility that the episode prior to and after the offering episode are related. (Mark 12:38-40; 12:41-44; 13:1-2)

    The episode prior is Jesus’ condemnation of the rich, ruling elites of the Jewish nation. He condemns their show and pretense, and condemns how they devour widows’ houses. The mention of “widows” ties this episode to the next.

    The next episode is where Jesus sits and watches people coming to give offerings at the temple. This episode is partly an example of what Mark just finished writing about. By this example Mark is showing, through Jesus’ actions and words, how the rich and religious have impoverished the widow, quite possibly by insisting that God’s demands come first, even if it means going without necessary means to support one’s basic needs. The rich and religious are condemned, too, because in their abundance they do nothing to offer practical assistance to the needs around them, but instead think they are serving God by offering funds to the temple.

    The setting of the temple ties the offering episode to the next. The disciples marvel at the temple but Jesus tells them that it will be utterly destroyed. In a real sense both the offering given by the rich as well as the widow will eventually turn into dust. It is interesting that in Mark 12:40 Jesus is quoted as saying, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” It is obviously comparing at least two groups, and the only two groups in the context are the wealthy scribes and the widows. It cannot be escaped that both groups will receive condemnation; it is just that the scribes will receive the greater condemnation for taking advantage of the widows.

    What is the condemnation? I believe it is seeing what will eventually happen to the offerings that are given. When the temple is destroyed, those who contributed more to it will receive the “greater condemnation”. But it does not exempt the widows. It may sound harsh, but I believe the point Mark is trying to make is that Jesus wants people to think about their actions and that blind obedience to religion and religious requirements is condemned.

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  2. To be human is to be conflicted.
    I’ve learned that all human motives, including mine, are never pure and rarely simple. I suppose that is why St. Paul refused to judge himself (1 Corinthians 4:3), leaving that to the God who is “closer to us than our own hearts” and usually more merciful, also.

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