“Beware of the scribes, who like to … be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats … and places of honour … They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” For years I’ve heard this passage as a warning against hypocrisy and a condemnation of those who pretend to be loving and charitable when others are looking, but who are really only “in it for themselves.” I have been comfortable with this message. I don’t usually do things just for show, and if the people directly affected by my actions value what I am doing, I don’t worry about whether others are aware of what I have done.
I tell myself that I don’t do things to be noticed. But this week I started to wonder if there are things that I do not bother doing because they would not be big enough to notice. I have been faced with the uncomfortable question: is there a significant difference between choosing to do something good so that others will say, “that was amazing” and choosing not to do something good because others might say, “why did she bother”? The remarkable thing about the widow who gave two small copper coins, is that she thought it was of value to give even if her gift was of no value in the eyes of the world.
In today’s world we are faced by many issues that seem overwhelming; anxiety and depression levels are rising as individuals question whether anything they do matters. In a world of almost 8 billion people, how can one person’s, or one family’s, actions affect climate change? In a country of 37 million, how can one person’s actions impact racism? In a world of global markets and multinational systems, how can individuals change historical patterns of injustice? It is easy to wonder if our choices make enough difference to make sacrificial giving (giving that impacts our life) worthwhile. It was equally easy to wonder if the widow’s gift of two small coins would make enough difference to the temple to be worth what it cost her. Her offering was a profound act of faith. She believed that God could make use of what little she had and so she gave what she could. In every situation each of us has a choice to make, a choice to give or a choice to keep what we have for ourselves, a choice to take what we want or a choice to leave what is there for others, a choice to rely on the sacrifices of others or a choice to make sacrifices for the sake of others. Many of those choices seem to have more impact on us than they do on those around us. No one else will notice whichever way we choose so it is tempting to choose what is best for us. We will be generous when our generosity can be seen. When we are faced with impossible tasks and overwhelming challenges, Jesus calls us to be like the widow and offer what we can. Even if our act is negligible compared to what is needed it is act of faith, and faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.