Mark 12:41-44: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything– all she had to live on.”
In this story Jesus invites his disciples to look at, and to really see, this poor widow. They were sitting in the temple, and they were all looking at something else. They were looking at the huge gifts that the wealthy members were putting into the temple treasury. But Jesus invited them to look at someone they had not noticed. It was a woman who came and put only two very small copper coins. What is there to notice about that? The temple would never meet its budget with little gifts like that. But Jesus doesn’t look at budgets so much as he looks at hearts, and here in this woman’s heart he saw a greater generosity than what was behind all of the far larger gifts. Along with that, Jesus reminded the disciples to be understanding of the plight of others. He told them in verse 44 of the woman’s poverty, and that she gave “all she had to live on.” We usually see this part of the text as a lesson in total devotion, but can also be seen as a reminder to the disciples to have a sympathetic eye and ear to the trouble of others. And those troubles are not always financial. There is an old saying that is very much in line with the teachings of Jesus that says, “Be kind, be kind; everyone you meet is facing a hard struggle.”
This story is usually used to encourage generosity in our giving to the Lord’s work, and it certainly has that message. In fact, that is perhaps the main message. And no synagogue or congregation can survive without those larger gifts, and the smaller gifts, from all of its members. But even at that, Jesus is here, as always, emphasizing not the outward and visible act, but the inner heart. And while Jesus does not condemn the larger givers, he does praise the heart and devotion of the poor widow. And while doing so, he teaches the disciples to see her in a different way, and that is, I believe another message in the text.
Being a follower of Jesus means believing in Jesus, it means obeying Jesus, it means thinking like Jesus would want us to think, and it means acting like Jesus would want us to act. And to all of that we can add another characteristic– a follower of Jesus is someone who looks at people like Jesus looks at people. And Jesus looks at people as children of the same heavenly Father, brothers and sisters in Him, made in his image, all with their troubles and burdens, and all with their many sins, but also with the capacity to be forgiven and changed by the Father. Jesus sees the sin in our hearts, but he also sees there a child of God that needs to be loved and forgiven. Jesus encourages us to see each other as he sees us. That is really ‘getting to know each other better,’ and while there is still plenty in everyone to not like, we can, in faith, know enough to love them for the Father’s sake. We, after all, deserve that love no less, but also no more, than anyone else. It all depends on how we choose to look at other people.
Methodist bishop Ken Carder illustrates this with a story of hiking in the North Carolina hills. He loves to walk the trail around a certain Lake Junaluska near his home. It is beautiful, he writes, it is serene and quiet, and he frequently walks that trail early in the morning. And those walks had always brought peace to his soul and spirit.
One morning, he said, he was irritated to find a discarded pop can right in the middle of the trail. This piece of junk looked so out of place in the beauty of nature all around him, and he picked it up and carried it out to the parking lot trash can. The next day, he did not see any pop cans, but he did, for the first time, notice other, smaller bits of trash– gum wrappers, a candy bar wrapper, and a few cigarette butts. He picked them up, amazed at how much litter was laying around, marring the beauty of the place.
The next morning, he brought a small plastic bag in case he would see any more trash. Again, he found more. He was surprised at how much he missed the day before, and even found another pop can. He could not believe the carelessness of such people. Thus began his practice of removing the trash and cleaning up the trail. Every time he would go for a walk, he would bring a plastic bag, finding ever smaller bits of trash to retrieve, and becoming ever more disgusted with the slobs who put it there.
One early morning, while starting out the trail, bag in hand, he was greeted by a friendly voice which said, “Have you ever seen such a sunrise as this morning?” Startled, he looked up and yes, it was indeed a beautiful sunrise; but until then, he hadn’t yet noticed. He was too busy looking down at the trail for the next bit of trash. “And look at those roses,” said the other man. ‘Well,’ Ken thought, ‘I just worked that rose bush yesterday,’ but he was looking under the bush for trash and hadn’t noticed the beauty.
Ken then realized what had happened to him. Where he used to see the beauty, now he was seeing trash. Whereas the walks used to bring him peace and pleasure, now they brought him anger and disgust. He said, “I have learned this, that it is easy to spot trash when you are looking for it. If you look for it, you’ll find it. But it is difficult to see even a sunrise when you are only looking for trash on the trail.” Jesus was not blind to the trash in people’s hearts and souls and he could be quick to point it out. But he also saw there so much more, and he could have compassion on them. We can all be grateful that Jesus chooses to look beyond the trash and look upon us with love and grace, and he teaches us to do the same. If we insist on looking for the trash in people, we will always see it. We are all sinners. But if we look at people like Jesus looks at us, we will see so much more.
I John 4:7-8 — Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
I John 4:11 — Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
I John 4:19 — We love because he first loved us.
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer