Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love
Mark 12:41-44; 13:1-2
Jesus sat down across from the temple’s collection boxes.
He watched the crowd depositing money into the boxes.
Many people of means deposited large sums.
Then a poor widow came and dropped in two coins,
which together were worth one quadrans.*
Jesus called his disciples over to him and said:
“That poor widow has donated more than everyone else.
Everyone else donated what they had left over after their spending.
But she, in her poverty, donated everything she had to live on.”
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him,
“Teacher, look at it! The stonework, the construction—it’s amazing!”
Jesus said to him:
“You see all this? It will be leveled to the ground.
Not one stone will be left standing on another.”
* quadrans: the Roman coin with the smallest value
In the Gospel of Mark, these are the last words Jesus speaks in the Temple. He appears to be leaving the Temple for the last time in his life.
In modern Bibles, there’s a chapter break between the story of the widow’s mite and Jesus’s prophecy of the Temple’s destruction. As a result, we usually read these passages separately, not together. But there’s no break in the original Greek text. And when I read them together, the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction adds a new layer of meaning for me to the story of the widow’s mite.
Jesus says that the widow’s tiny donation is more praiseworthy than the great sums donated by the wealthy because she gave out of her poverty. Simple enough—the concept, I mean. In another sense, of course, this saying of Jesus’s is deeply challenging, particularly for a person like me, who, while I think of myself as average by my nation’s economic standards, is very wealthy by global standards. Am I really giving as much as I could be? Am I living as simply as I could be in order to increase my capacity to give?
But here’s the additional layer of meaning that I didn’t see until today, when I read the prophesy of the Temple’s destruction as a continuation of the story of the widow’s mite: Jesus lauds the widow’s sacrificial donation to the Temple, knowing that the Temple is going to be leveled to the ground.
What if I knew, with certainty, that an earthquake will utterly demolish the Temple at Independence? Would I give money for the Temple’s upkeep between now and then? Or what if I knew that within a generation Community of Christ will collapse financially and cease to exist? Would I still give this institution my time, talents, and treasure? Or would I shift my giving to another institution that I thought was more stable, more likely to endure? I would seriously consider the latter.
This isn’t just a hypothetical thought exercise for me. I want very much to believe that I am making some kind of enduring difference. I need to believe that I am contributing to decisive change in the world: abolishing poverty, ending war, saving the planet. Otherwise, I’m susceptible to despair—to feeling, “What’s the point?” I understand that every human life is of great worth, even though fleeting, and therefore every act of kindness, however small, performed for any person is worthwhile. But I want to be doing more than performing small, fleeting acts of kindness in a world that’s sliding irreversibly into a black hole of misery. I want to know I’m helping to bring about the Millennium.
Jesus, as portrayed in today’s Gospel passage, doesn’t seem to see things that way. If I had been in the Temple that day, knowing what Jesus knew, I would have stopped the widow and said, “Don’t donate those coins to the Temple. Give them to a beggar—that will do more good.” Jesus, however, sees something inherently praiseworthy—supremely praiseworthy—in the widow’s giving, even if she’s giving to a cause that may not mean anything in the long run. I’m not ready to sign onto that point of view entirely, but I sense there’s something I should learn from it.