‘Red and green should never be seen with nothing in-between.’ I don’t know if you’ve ever received that fashion advice – I don’t set much store by it myself, as my weekly emails attest: the more red and green, the better! It comes from the idea that a strong contrast is off-putting: we like things to blend, to fit together…
But as we conclude our week in the temple at Jerusalem, we must admit that at Jewish festival time, all of life is there. Thousands will have gathered from all sections of society: near and far, rich and poor, and also from many nations. The spectacle must have been intense: especially so when you add in thousands of animals required for the sacrifices. These had to be paid for, but the temple had its own system of coinage: first you had to change your shekels (or whatever) into the temple’s own money (at rates which benefitted those who did this), and then you’re ready to buy your sacrifices or make an additional donation to the temple treasury.
The treasury itself was like a big metal tapered tub, which made a loud clanging sound as money was thrown in. Think a church copper collection plate on steroids! Of course, if you wanted everyone to see how generous you were, you could throw large numbers of coins little by little into the ‘tub’ so everyone could hear the sound of them clanging against the walls. Conversely, the poor would have to suffer the shame of a light tinkling as they made their way past.
At the heart of today’s passage is a striking contrast: Jesus observes two very different people, who carry very different reputations: first there are the religious elite: well respected, privileged, powerful. And then there is a widow: poor, of little social standing – a ‘charity case.’ Who does Jesus praise?
Not the elite: ‘watch out for them,’ Jesus says. They’re all show. They love their position, but their hearts are corrupt. Indeed, one of the reasons that widows in this culture are often poor is that their worldly goods are taken by these (male) elites – ‘they devour widow’s houses’.
Instead, the few pence which the widow offers to God is highly praised: relatively speaking, she has given far more than the wealthy leaders: her donation might mean she goes to bed hungry that night.
Survey after survey has shown that the rich proportionately give less than the poor (just google ‘rich give less than poor survey’ to verify that!). It’s not for nothing that Jesus repeatedly warns of the dangers of allowing money to grab our hearts. But Jesus’ observation here is wider: God doesn’t see the world the way we do. He sees not just our hearts but also our capacities: where we come from, what we resources we have. He doesn’t notice the loud clanging or the light tinkling, only the silent sound of a heart longing for him.
‘We cannot do great things: only small things with great love.’ Today pray for God to stir your heart with a fresh longing for him. And may that simple, humble longing lead to a small thing offered with great love. Amen.