In these days of violence and uncertainty it is important to pay attention, to notice those who are otherwise invisible. They have something to teach us.
In the gospel reading for this morning Jesus and his friends had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. It would be Jesus’ last trip. He would be crucified just a few days later. But, on this day, the disciples didn’t know that. Oh, Jesus had tried to tell them, but they didn’t understand. To them it was just a trip to Jerusalem with their rabbi.
As soon as they got to Jerusalem people began asking Jesus questions. The Bible tells us that Scribes and Pharisees asked him questions and that some of them tried to trick him, I suspect that other people had questions for Jesus too, but Jesus answered all their questions and pretty soon they stopped asking him questions.
In Jerusalem that day there also was a Hebrew woman named Chance whose husband had died. She had no sons and no relative had claimed her. She was on her own. She had used what little money she had to sustain herself for a while, but the money was almost gone. There were only two lepton left, not enough even for a final meal. While Jesus was answering questions, Chance was considering her options and there weren’t many. In resignation, she took up her pen and wrote:
I am done with you Scribes and Pharisees! You too, Sadducees. Your God commanded you to take care of poor widows like me, but you have failed in even this most basic commandment. You want a feast? Fine. I’ll give you a feast. You can have the last of my money to feed your fat faces. I am done with the lot of you.
She didn’t sign the letter. Instead, she wrapped the two lepton in the paper and shoved it into the pocket of her sadly worn tunic. It was the only garment she had, her cloak having been taken by a creditor.
When they went to the temple, Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the kinds of people who like to wear long colorful tunics and be recognized for their piety. They say long prayers to make themselves look good; but they not only consume the feast, they consume widow’s houses too. Long prayers and long robes won’t make up for that.
Chance and Jesus, along with the disciples, made their way to the temple. Jesus and the disciples indulged in a little people watching, like we all do. There would have been a lot going on at the temple that day. They sat down across from the treasury, directly opposite, as if in opposition to the spectacle there. They must have had a good view of the people passing by tossing their money into the boxes. Some people put in quite a lot, some made sure that their coins clinked loudly to show that they were big givers.
Chance didn’t have time for such leisure. She had set her face to the temple and she marched right in and threw the last of her money into the box. She said a short prayer that Yahweh would forgive her anger and somehow make it for the good, that the injustice of the system would be overcome with the true love of God. The money didn’t make much of a clink when it went in, even though she threw it in with some force. It didn’t matter, though. She was so insignificant to the gathered crowd that nobody even saw her. It was like she was invisible.
Jesus noticed, though, and he said one of those things… like he does… that seems to not make any sense. He told the disciples that Chance had given more than the others, more even than the very big givers. He shifted the question of value. For him is was not about the amount given but the amount sacrificed. She had given the very last of what she had. There was nothing left for her.
Then both Jesus and Chance left the temple and they both died a few days later. Jesus would be crucified and Chance probably died of starvation. They both gave themselves to a violent system of destruction. Willingly, perhaps angrily; both their lives completely poured out.
As they left the temple one of the disciples remarked on how magnificent it all was. “Just look at the size of these stones!” he said, oblivious to the violence and injustice perpetuated on Chance and as yet unaware of the violence and injustice that would be perpetuated on Jesus. It was as if he hadn’t heard anything that Jesus had said, as if he hadn’t noticed Chance at all, hadn’t heard what Jesus had been telling the disciples over and over and over… three times… That he would also die.
And, with that, we have already stepped into next week’s episode.
As Christians, we know that we are called to follow Jesus to the cross. That kind of religious language has almost lost its meaning from over-use. Let’s say it a different way: We are all called to pour out our whole lives. None of us do, at least not until we have to. Certainly, none of us do it as willingly or passionately as Jesus and Chance. But, in the end, all the life will pour out of us one way or the other. The question is whether or not it means anything.
Jesus’ poured out life saved the world. That’s what we call a “special case.” None of us are going to save the world. I know some people who think they are the savior, but they are not. We don’t need another savior. Jesus saved the world. It’s done. I think the writer knew that none of us were going to pour out our lives as willingly and thoroughly as Jesus did. But he threw in this vignette of Chance to give us a way to go down swinging!
In these days of violence and uncertainty it is important to pay attention, to notice those who are otherwise invisible. They have something to teach us. Be like Chance and wrap up whatever poverty you’ve got and throw it hard at the systems that claim to serve but which actually enslave. It may be that the last bit of whatever you’ve got left will lead to your death, but you’re going to die anyway. We all are. The struggle will go on.
The lectionary very thoughtfully gives us this story during fund-raising season. But this is not a fund-raising story. It’s a story about how we die, how we get ready. Jesus did some of his most important teaching. Chance used what she had to stand up to power and violence. In the end, Chance and Jesus were the freest people in the room that day. They had nothing left to lose. They were ready.
It may not be time for you to throw your last two lepton into the box. I hope not! But all of us, young or old, have to consider how we will spend the resources we have, even if we don’t have much at all. Value, after all, is not in what we give but in what we sacrifice. Go ahead, give it all.
Linda McMillan is from Sweeny, Texas. She now lives in al Qassim, Saudi Arabia.
Image: Widow’s Mite Coin and Keffiyeh, by Linda McMillan, Israel, 2018
Some Notes of Possible Interest
The name Chance is a play on the word chacer, from the Hebrew word for poverty. I feel that she deserves a name.
Obviously, Chance would not have been able to afford writing materials and she was probably unable to read and write, but this is a story. It’s as true as any of the rest of it.
By law the creditor should have returned the cloak by nightfall, but it didn’t always happen.