Mark 12:38-44 | Proper 27 (32)
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts based on the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.
The Coins We Give Away
It’s not about the money. We try to make it so — to turn this passage into a lecture on giving generously, to make it about donating to churches and to charities — but it was never about the money.
Two copper coins, half pennies, that is what the poor woman put into the collection box. Jesus saw her do it. At least, it sounds like he saw her. It’s possible that he just picked a woman and made up the story as a way to teach his followers, but that isn’t the plainest reading of the text. Mark writes that Jesus saw her putting two tiny coins into the collection and knew that those coins were “all she had to live on.”
Was Jesus knowing about the coins a God thing? Secret divine knowledge? It may just be that he was paying attention to a poor woman, which is the sort of miracle we need to perform more often.
Either way, he knew what she had done. She gave everything. It wasn’t just money. It was everything she had left to keep her alive, her ‘living’ —the word is the one that gives us the English term ‘bio’ as in biography or biology. All that kept her alive, that is what she gave.
The rich people gave large donations. That was good, so far as it went. The money kept the temple operating.
And we should give to support our synagogues and churches, our mosques and temples. We give to support all the things that sustain love in this world, and God would have us love our neighbors as ourselves. Love the poor. The sick. Love the stranger in our midst, a command found at least 36 times in scripture. Those things need our coins. They also need our time, and they need our voices as well.
This woman threw herself out into the sea that is God, trusting she would be lifted by a different kind of whale than Jonah’s. That was good. Her gift caught the eye of Jesus and thrilled the heart of the Almighty. Perhaps being at the end of her purse, only two half pennies left, it was easier to let go of them. Somehow I think it was not. The sound of those copper coins dropping was a prayer.
“I lay down my life,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John. He doesn’t say that he dies, but that he lays down his life. Christianity is so full of people trying to explain the crucifixion, focusing on the death of the Messiah, that we miss the life. That is what Jesus gave—his life. He laid down all that he had and let the sea of humanity flood across him.
It is not the death of Jesus that saves us. It is the life. It is all that is God. Faith cannot be solely about something that happened two thousand years ago, or millions of years ago, or days. It’s fairly easy to love the past. We shape it in our minds to suit us. It’s harder to love the present, full of complicated, aggravating, conflicted people, but they need our love, and our voices, and our time. And we need to open our hands, let some coins drop, and reach out. In touching one another, we touch something of the Spirit of God.