We often hear the same Bible stories time and time again, intellectually understanding what’s going on but not fully appreciating it until we live an analogous experience. I just had one such experience and I figured I would share it.
Finding employment and a sense of direction in life have been challenges since I graduated university a little over a year ago. This has left me humble in my best moments and furiously, jealously, bitterly insecure in my worst moments. While a lack of sense of accomplishment is predictably discouraging, a lack of income is unanticipatedly so. The thing that discourages me about not having money is not so much my lack of ability to spend on myself. It’s my lack of ability to use my wealth for others.
A month ago I visited my family and we went out to a restaurant. At one point I took out my wallet to see if I had anything to contribute but I was assured that anything I contributed would just have to be given back to me later since my parents are supporting me. Which was true, but a sucky thing to think about. So my monetary contribution was nil. Perhaps it could be said that I contributed to the conversation.
This evening I went to a service at a church and they took an offering. As they did, I suddenly recalled many different stories and conversations I had heard about stewardship – about people contributing out of meager means in faith that God would provide for them according to their needs in good time.
And I thought of the story in Mark 12 about the poor widow who could give only two copper coins to the temple. Jesus, as you recall, commends this. And so with this in mind, I reached into the pocket of my wallet where I keep loose coins (only ever spent on tea when catching up with friends) and I gave what I had – 25 cents.
Obviously I’m drawing a parallel between myself and the poor widow Jesus commended but I’m not writing this to brag. Quite the opposite. This was my discovery: I felt then, and I feel now, an immense sense of shame and embarrassment. People around me were putting in toonies and bills and I put in a quarter. That’s what I had to spare. I’ve grown familiar with not contributing, like in the restaurant. But there’s something about making a contribution but having it be the tiniest most insignificant little bit that’s somehow more embarrassing than not contributing at all.
And now I think about the poor widow and what it must have been like for her (who was in a much worse situation than I am) to have been in that crowd. To have shown up. In the world of performing arts, you take your bow no matter how many times you screwed up or how bad a job you did. You can just hide backstage and avoid getting booed, but you don’t. You show yourself, say “This is what I contributed,” and you risk people’s judgement.
And then that one lunatic in the audience starts clapping.
I always imagined the poor widow just walking up to the collection box, casually dropping in two coins, and walking away. Now I wonder – maybe not. Maybe it took her incredible courage to go up and do something that felt meaningless and insignificant. “The courage to do something that feels insignificant.” There’s an idea to chew on.
Incidentally, the morning sermon at a different church was about Matthew 20, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard that ends with how “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” It’s either a coincidence or God has been trying to tell me something today. I suppose the lesson for today is to do the insignificant. Have the courage to do the things that seem embarrassingly meaningless because in God’s eyes they aren’t meaningless at all.
“That which you do to the least of my people…” and all that.