The Widow’s Gift: Dr. Duane Arnold, PhD
Jesus said to those who wished to know why he did what he did, “Search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, but they are they which testify of me”. This was a statement that the early interpreters of the Bible took seriously and it is a principle which we would do well to recover.
You see, all too often when we approach a passage of scripture, we do so with what I can only call our post-enlightenment self-centeredness. That is, we don’t look to see Christ as the main topic of what we read, but rather, we are much more concerned to see how we fit into the picture. With a self-assurance born of Voltaire and Rousseau, topped up in more recent times by Ellen, Oprah and The View, we are convinced that our problems, our concerns, and yes, even our spiritual longings, are, somehow, at the center of the created order and, therefore, even in the Bible, must be the main focus of what we read or what we hear. Thus, when we read a parable that tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who sells all that he has to buy one pearl of great price, or a field in which a treasure is buried, we immediately conclude that we are intended to be the main character in the story. It’s about us. We are the merchants who have cleverly discovered the treasure. We can take the action to claim it for ourselves.
Yet, to paraphrase Our Lord, from the beginning it was not so. In the first four hundred years of the Church, the interpretation of scripture was cruciform, that is, each page of the Bible was seen as having been indelibly marked by Christ and his Cross, by the giving of his life for us. It was not our longing for God that was seen in the pages of scripture, but his longing for us. Christ is the one who impoverished himself and paid the price in blood to purchase a single pearl of inestimable worth – the Church… you and me. He is the one who gave all that he possessed on Golgotha to purchase a field, the world, in which we, the Church, lay buried in trespasses and sins. Yet, in the eyes of God’s love, we were a treasure, waiting to be revealed.
So it is with the story of the widow and her offering in the temple. Jesus observes the scene as various people come forward to present gifts. As we read the story, we tend to focus upon the two types of religious people whom Christ describes. The first type includes the scribes, the doctors of the law, who make a pretense of religious practices and the wealthy who make a great show out of giving offerings from their abundance. The second type is a widow, who by the standard of the world seems to have given very little, two copper coins, but in reality she has given more than anyone, for she has sacrificed her entire living – her very life.
Now, we could, very easily, attempt to identify ourselves, or people we know, with the two types of religious persons indicated by Christ. However, I’m going to ask you to do something else. I’m going to ask you, just for a moment, to become an Augustine, an Athanasius, an Origen, a John Chrysostom. I’m going to ask you to forget about yourself, to travel back through the centuries, and to attempt another interpretation of this story. I’m going to ask you to place the shadow of the Cross on this page of your Bibles.
God, who possesses all that is, by right of creation, could have chosen, with great show and fanfare, to have given us some gift out of his abundance. He did not so choose. Instead, he became like the widow, bereft of the love of his spouse, and gave us all that he had. In the person of Christ, without trumpets and without fanfare, on a rough hewn cross, hidden from the sight of the mighty and the powerful, he gave us his very life.
Now in certain theological schemes, what God did makes sense. For some, it makes sense that Jesus would be our sacrifice, because a sacrifice was needed to justify man’s presence before God. For others, it makes sense that God would use this final gift of himself to show us our need for grace. For yet others, it makes sense that the incarnation would lead to this death and that upon the cross Christ would be our Great High Priest. In all these schemes, what God did makes sense. It can be taught, charted and put in books on systematic theology.
However, why God did it, is as absurd as a widow who casts her last two coins into an offering box. When one leaves the action and examines the motive, the carefully stacked blocks of logic and system begin to tumble. This type of love is not logical. It cannot be neatly outlined in a sermon, or explained in a term paper, or held between the covers of a book. It is why all theological systems ultimately fall short, for while we try to explain, God simply gives.
Even after generations of people had rejected his gifts, God still loved them. Even after the people he loved had stripped him naked and torn his flesh, he still died for them. Even today, as countless millions have chosen to bow before the altars of power, of fame, and of wealth, he still waits for them.
It is as inexplicable as the widow’s gift. It doesn’t possess a drop of logic or a thread of rationality.
All given, nothing held back. Assuming all humanity at his incarnation. Bloodstained royalty. A God with tears. A Creator with a heart. God becoming impoverished… a mockery… all to save us, his children.
How absurd to even imagine such a thing… that the God of all creation would go to such lengths of poverty to share such a treasure with such thankless souls…
Yet, this is exactly what he did.
In fact, the only thing more astounding than that gift born of love, is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it.