Nothing Left To Give?
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
Picture with me the temple scene: scribes and priests in festive vestments,
wealthy merchants, and prominent members of the community, all the pomp, the splendor, the
rites and rituals. The pleats of their robes were neatly folded and the tassels were in
their proper place. They wanted to look impressive as they paraded through the outer
courtyards into the court of Israel. They routinely checked the ornate bags in which they
carried their temple offerings to make sure that they had the proper coins and that the
amount was sufficient for persons of their rank and standing.
At the same time, and very much in contrast to this scene, we see a little old widow
getting ready for worship. She had been bargaining and scraping all week to have something
for the temple. After all, she couldn't approach the house of God empty- handed. At the
moment, she lived to give her offering to God. She wanted to tell God, "I'm thankful
I still have you."
In spite of the insignificance of her temple tithe--two pennies--, Jesus noticed this
woman and lifts her up as an example: "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in
more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed
out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had"
(Mark 12:43-44). This act does not romanticize poverty. There is nothing sacred about
being hungry, cold, homeless, or powerless. The presence of the poor illustrates the need
for church and its mission. But sometimes people who live near the edge of existence see
things more clearly than those of us who have plenty. They see without impairment what is
The widow praised by Jesus knew she had nothing and no one on whom to rely but God. Her
gift told God, "I have nothing more to offer. Take and use me."
The widow's mite in the eyes of our "consumer culture"
The widow's mite doesn't make sense in the eyes of the consumer culture around us. We
look at the woman and say: "That's very foolish, to give everything and don't expect
anything in return. This attitude will get you into the poor house. Get with the times,
old lady. Don't you know that today's world is about bargains, rebates, and
discounts?" The question that permeates society has become: What do I get in
Consumers have come to wield enormous power in our day and age. In our competitive
free-market economy, anyone with a product to sell must appeal to the consumer, making it
as "user-friendly" as possible. If they want to survive, they must cater to all
target groups, including widows on fixed incomes. Consumers have come to expect the most
for their money. It is no longer enough to give people what they pay for. We insist on
getting something more on top. Some perk, some freebie, or some extra incentive. We all
know the slogans that try to lure us:
Buy a dozen donuts ... get one free.
Get two pairs of shoes . . . .get one free
"Super-size" your value meal ... for just a quarter.
Pick 10 free cds . . .with a book club membership
Spring for the sports car and regain your youth and your sex appeal.
The widow's mite in the eyes of the church
People today look at the church through these same lenses. Church growth consultants
today are encouraging us to market the church much as we market consumer goods. We focus
on what the church has to offer. They tell us: if you offer it they will come. Here are a
few of the "products" they say the church must have in order to be
the worship service variety--something for every taste; pick from our menu: early,
late, midweek, contemporary, traditional...
child-care and children's programs
youth center with basketball and volleyball courts
aerobic classes and square dancing
banquet hall and catering service for weddings and community events
Church Growth Consultants assure us that congregations that offer these and other
"products" are the most attractive to the younger generation today. Don't get me
wrong, there is a need for such programs and services, but what bothers me is that the
church buys into the spirit of the consumer culture that asks: what can I get from the
church? I absolutely hate it when the people in the pew are viewed as customers. Is that
all there is to being a part of the church being customers and asking what do I get for my
loyalty, for my contribution? Let us not be fooled, folks, the church may resemble a
business in some ways, but it is also supposed to be different from the world, at least
according to Jesus view of the Kingdom of God.
The widow's mite in the eyes of Jesus:
What is Jesus's approach? Remember when Jesus called his disciples? He didn't exactly
treat them as customers, did he? He didn't lure them into following him with two for one
deals or pie-in-the-sky promises. What was his appeal? He said, I'll make you
"fishers of people." He called them into ministry. That meant giving up their
livelihoods, sacrificing their careers, in order to follow Him. He asked them to give
rather than to receive: to tend sheep, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the
naked, to visit the imprisoned, and to preach the good news to the poor. He focused on
services to render, not on goods to receive.
Jesus praised a poor widow who placed all she had in the temple treasury. He praised
her because she was more interested in actively participating in God's presence than in
buying some product God or the temple had to offer. When viewed by Jesus' standards, the
widow's mite is the real thing, the genuine article, faith in action, worship in spirit
and in truth! The world may define success in terms of what can be taken from life, but in
God's kingdom, in the church, Jesus is saying, it's the other way around. Jesus is saying:
those with a giving attitude are the ones that are really successful in life.
Giving is the kind of attitude God has toward us too. That's the kind of attitude Jesus
had when he walked the Via Dolorosa for you and me. So, Jesus doesn't expect anything from
us that he hasn't done. He's walked the walk. He's given his all, expecting nothing in
return. He didn't know how any of us would respond to his deed of salvation.
What does our "mite" look like?
When we come to church, what is our attitude? Do we come to give? Do we come to give
ourselves in worship? Surely none of us are vain enough to wonder how others will respond
to our apparel, appearance, or participation in worship, are we? As we drove to church
this morning, did we give any thought at all to worship? If we did, what were those
thoughts? Did we look forward to offering praises to God, or did we hope to hear a
stirring anthem? Did we even consider issuing an invitation to someone to attend worship
with us today? Did we consider whether anyone we know could use a ride to church? Did we
hope the service would end on time so as not to interfere with our lunch plans? Did we
give any thought to our regular offering or to special needs that might have arisen in the
congregation, the community, or the denomination, or did we write the check without
pausing, simply out of habit?
As we worship today, will Jesus notice what we have to offer? Will He be able to say of
us, "now here is an example of worship of faith and of cheerful giving?"
Lets be honest: we, too, look at the story of the widow and instinctively ask:
"what is her reward? Jesus doesn't say. Yet, we want to know. She is the hero, isn't
she? Jesus lifts her up as an example. So, what's the reward for her great sacrifice. She
gave all. What's waiting for her behind door # 3? A Beemer? A new kitchen set? At the very
least, she should be promised heavenly rewards. Where is the fairy tale ending, the
miracle on 34th Street...?
And then it dawns on us: . . . . .right!! When we ask the question about rewards, we're
still stuck in that "what-do-I-get-our-of-it?" mode. Faith, worship, our tithes
and offering is not about tit for tat, about what I get in return. It's about giving
without asking: "what do I get in return?" That's why Jesus never says anything
about reward. He simply holds up her example of faith. "Look at this guys! Look at
this widow! Now that's real faith, that's what worship should look like, that's what
offering looks like in the Kingdom of God. It's beautiful, isn't it?" The Kingdom of
God is not about what God can do for you, but what you can do for God. Period.