Lectionary resources for worship, faith formation, and service
In an interview with NPR last year, the well-known comedian Louis C.K is asked about one of his stand-up routines that broaches the subject of generosity.
In the routine, Louis describes how every time he sees an American soldier on one of his flights, he thinks about benevolently trading his first-class seat for their coach seat. Louis clarifies, “I never have. Let me make that clear. I’ve never done it once. I’ve had so many opportunities [but] I never even really, seriously came close. And here’s the worst part, I still just enjoy the fantasy for myself to enjoy. I was actually proud of myself for having thought of it! I was proud! I am such a sweet man. That is so nice of me to think of doing that and then totally never do it.” The crowd erupts in laughter because they can relate.
I can relate. There are so many times throughout my life when I think, even dream, about these wonderfully kind things that I could do for family, friends and strangers, but with no follow-through. In the interview, Louis comments on his recording saying, “It’s the height of selfishness to enjoy philanthropy without really doing it.”
Enjoying the idea of philanthropy without really doing it is what Jesus warns his followers against in today’s scripture passage from the Gospel of Mark. He tells them to “beware of the scribes” who dress the part, say the right things and yet “devour widows’ houses.” Immediately following his sharp remarks about these hypocritical folks, Jesus directs the gaze of his disciples to the Temple treasury, and they watch together as it is filled with large sums of money from the rich people passing by. Suddenly, they witness the offering of two small copper coins given by a poor, nameless widow.
The copper coin was the smallest unit of money in circulation during this time. And yet, Jesus remarks that these two coins were “everything she had, all she had to live on.” In Greek, this verse reads that she literally gives “her whole life.”
The widow’s humble offering stirs within me feelings of great inspiration and of deep lament. This woman’s faith in her God and in her religion, which enables her to give so boldly, has the same effect upon me as I’m sure it did upon Jesus’ disciples. I am inspired. I want to be more like her. I want to give the way she gives – literally my whole life – for what I believe in. And yet, I also lament. I wonder if Jesus was hoping that his disciples would not only celebrate the faith of this widow, but also recognize and grieve the broken system that would exploit someone like her. Perhaps Jesus was drawing the attention of his listeners to the appalling reality that the Temple, the place intended for prayer and compassion, had become a place where even a widow’s last two coins would be devoured.
One thing’s for sure, Jesus isn’t impressed by mere appearances. Instead, he calls his followers to look deeper, to pay closer attention (especially to those who are easily overlooked) and to actually incarnate what they believe, because fantasizing about doing good just isn’t good enough.