“She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had”

As we lead into Thanksgiving in America, it’s worth spending some time reflecting on the nature of gratitude and the relativity of sacrifice.

Mark 12: 41-44 tells of Jesus and his disciples observing people donating money to the temple treasury. The same story appears in Luke.

Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, Jesus said to them,
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”

Some people make a big show of contributing large sums of money at church or to the community. It almost appears like a competition to see who can be seen as the biggest contributor. Yet here, Jesus doesn’t care who gives the most money but who has sacrificed the most in giving.

This isn’t dissimilar to the debate over taxation. Some say a flat tax is fairer than a progressive tax, that everyone should pay the same rate. Yet Jesus would ask: Who is making the greater sacrifice, who is giving up more from their livelihood by paying the same rate? Everyone isn’t equal in resources.

As Jesus shows in this reading, true giving isn’t about who donates the most currency but who sacrifices the most in giving from what they have. Who is the true believer?

In the same way, those who are the most grateful are often those who have the least. Their hearts are not in their possessions for they have so few. Instead, their hearts are in their relationships and their hopes and dreams, their successes and their survivals. In poverty, even a little success is a like a triumph.

We can’t know why the widow gave all that she had at the temple. Jesus doesn’t tell us. But it’s very likely she was grateful for what little she had and was inspired to give back to God in thanksgiving. The rich, Jesus says, give of their surplus. They don’t know of desperation nor of neglect nor of want. They give table scraps after the dinner is over.

As you prepare for the upcoming holiday, remember that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, not about gluttony. Most will have huge family feasts, but some will have little but their usual meal. Be joyful, but also be mindful:  As Jesus has said often in the Gospels, those who are first shall come last, and those who are last shall come first. Are you grateful like the widow or are you grateful like the rich?

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