by Linda Ryan
Another week is over and we prepare for the beginning of the next week. The news that been considerably better this week, with more terrorist acts, and more doublespeak from various official mouthpieces, and more unrest due to fear and anger. There are times when it almost a relief to sit down and read the readings for the day. The Eucharistic readings were kind of a starter for what I needed to think about today.
The story comes from Mark, who wrote fairly simply and clearly the things that he remembered from Jesus’s teachings. Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, seems to bring up themes developed in the later Gospels. Good old Mark, he just tells the story and lets the imagination draw the picture.
Mark was evidently present when Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem on this occasion. There were numerous people there, moving about, going from place to place for whatever reason. Jesus noted the scribes who, because they really didn’t do manual work, wore long dresses. Their jobs were to keep track of the intake in the treasury, do long prayers (mostly for appearance’s sake), also to, as Jesus said, “…devour widow’s houses.” Jesus did not have a very high opinion of such ostentation and such hypocrisy. It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, where those who had high positions and who definitely did not let the rest of the world forget it, were the object of Jesus’ teaching of how not to live.
There was one small woman though that caught Jesus’s eye. he may not have been an old lady, but she was a widow and seemingly had very little means of support. Lots of people came in and dropped off large sums of money, making sure that others saw the size of their contribution, but the widow kind of crept in, trying not to be seen as she dropped in two very small, meager coins before slipping away hopefully unseen.
The thing was, Jesus saw her and called his disciples’ attention to what had just happened. The widow had put in a far greater proportion of her income than any of the wealthy benefactors who were ostentatiously in their giving that really represented only a part (often a small one) of their wealth. It looked good, and enhanced their standing among those who saw them. We learn from Jesus that the woman’s contribution was greater in the sight of God’s in anyone else’s could be. She gave all that she had, not just a part of it.
This really is a story for today, featuring the two poles of the financial world where there are the very rich and there are the very poor. I can’t remember who said it, but a well-known saying is “God must love the poor (or the common man), because He made so many of them.” We talk about the highest income people in the land representing 1% of the population. The other 99% fall somewhere below that, and more and more are sinking past the middle class and into the working poor or even the homeless and unemployed.
We look and we see them with their bottles of beer or Bourbon, with their cigarettes and marijuana, sometimes with drug drugs set out before them and we think that these are the dregs of the world, people who, if they get two cents will spend it on some sort of self-medication, and it’s true. I know if I were living on the street, had no access to clean water to wash my clothes, or without a roof over my head, or even knowing where my next meal was going to come from, I might also resort to such a self-medication program. We don’t know that the widow was homeless. Very probably not, because even if very poor, people generally had someone in the family who would take them in and care for them. Too bad we don’t have that much Christian grace today.
I often think about the old expression, “Putting my two cents’ worth in,” the saying that conveys the idea that the opinion being expressed probably is not worth very much, but the person wants to be heard anyway. Sometimes the greatest thoughts have come out of a two cent expression or sentence or thought.
A lot of people do not vote or contact their elected representatives to express their concerns and their desires because they think their two cents isn’t going to make any difference. You can’t get much with two cents. It used to buy a couple of pieces of penny candy or bubblegum, but good luck finding that now. Two cents will not buy anything, but if we have spare pennies, sometimes we will throw them into a jar on the store counter, in the collection plates, or an alms box. It makes our pockets lighter but without any significant impact on our personal income or financial position.
Thing is, though, if 50 people put in their two cents, there would be a dollar for whatever the cause. Sometimes someone putting their two cents worth in at a community meeting, town hall, or even a rally will somehow start an avalanche of support, including more pennies and people being motivated to actually do something instead of just thinking about how we could solve the world’s problems. Sometimes all it takes is two cents, and who knows, it would make a great testimonial to the faith of that widow who probably felt shamed that she could not give more but who gave her all, just as God wanted. God willingly takes what each of us may think we can offer and multiplies it sometimes infinitely. God could do it without us, but really wants us to give of ourselves, not just a bit of our resources.
I think it’s time for me to think about my two cents’ worth. I can understand the widow giving her all, but I’m too afraid. Maybe I need to conquer my fear and think about the ten cents I can put out, either in my words, my actions, or even out of my wallet. I have that image of the widow before me, probably being pushed and shoved by people who felt themselves much more important and much more worthy of respect. Maybe the widow didn’t realize that Jesus had seen what she did. God saw, and God was pleased.
This week where can I make my two cents make a difference? It may take every coin out of my wallet, but somehow there has to be something that those coins can do to help change the world and even change me. It’s going to be an interesting week.