v 44. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
The world at large has always admired and celebrated the magnificent generosity of certain people. The Bill Gates of this world, with their billions of dollars, have done a great deal to alleviate human suffering through their generosity. My own old College owes a great deal to an early donor, who made his fortune through the Slave Trade; only now are they agonising over whether this was acceptable generosity! But here we find that Jesus turns the notion of generosity on its head. It is not the amount you give but the underlying motivation and the amount you choose to keep for yourself that matters.
This woman was a widow – which would seem to indicate that she had no income from a husband and perhaps little support from others around her. The sum total of her possessions was really small. In fact, in our day and age we might question whether she was wise to give it all away – but that is the ‘wisdom’ of our generation which would like to have something in hand for a rainy day. Would a 21st Century Financial Adviser recommend giving everything away I wonder? And what might Social Services personnel say to a widow who had nothing because she had put her all in the church offering? So here comes Jesus with a different outlook on generosity. It is exactly the viewpoint from which Paul came to the issue some 30 years or so later when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 8 about people in the Church in Macedonia ‘For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. ‘ This kind of generosity is reckless; nobody was trying to squeeze money out of them, they simply wanted to give – their generosity came from deep down inside them. It is this attitude towards giving stuff away in spite of personal circumstances that Jesus commends. Jesus Himself seems to have owned little or nothing; we read in Matthew 8 ‘Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” ‘ Jesus, it seems, held lightly to earthly possessions. Once we own ‘stuff’ it seems harder to give it away, and that is as true of money as of anything else. Jesus sees and knows our inner attitudes to material possessions and was a Man like no other, commending true generosity.