Does the headline for this article pique your curiosity or does it irritate you? The word “protest” often evokes strong positive or negative emotions. Like it or not, we seem to be in a time marked by protests of one kind or another.
Beyond giving as duty, the Bible offers us an array of metaphors for giving that can move us to live more generously. The story of the widow’s offering told in the gospels of Mark and Luke offers us one of those metaphors.
When you think of this very familiar story, often called “The widow’s mite,” have you ever imagined what the widow looks like? How old is she? How does she carry herself? What is her facial expression?
I had always imagined this widow as an older woman who showed signs of a very hard life. In my mind, she was embarrassed to be in the temple, as she shyly approached the treasury, hoping not to be noticed, and apologetically put her two lowly coins in the box.
An illustration of this story from the Jesus Mafa community of Cameroon completely changed my mind. Their illustrator sees a young woman with a baby on her hip and a basket on her head. She is dressed shabbily but confidently approaches the treasury, boldly giving her offering among the high-status men who are also contributing.
In both texts, just before this story Jesus was teaching in the temple and said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
What if this widow heard Jesus’ teaching and decided to stage a protest at the treasury? Had her house been devoured by an upstanding community leader? Was she reacting to those “upright” citizens who accumulated wealth for themselves at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable? Widows and orphans were supposed to be cared for, not taken advantage of! Throwing all that she has in the offering, the widow throws herself on God and the community, creating an obligation on both to make things right.
This idea is summarized in an offering prayer adapted from the book Be Our Freedom, Lord, edited by Terry Falla (adapted): “God of extravagant mercy, with hands outstretched you have poured out wonder and pleasure and delight, goodness and beauty and bounty. Take our offerings, we pray, as our protest against all that is evil and ugly and impoverished, trivial and wretched and tyrannical, in our world and in ourselves—that we, too, may be poured out for the world.”
Yes, the widow’s story might express that no matter how small the gift, it matters. Or no matter what the gift, it’s the attitude that counts. But Jesus tells his disciples that the widow, “out of her poverty, put in everything she had.” She gave her whole life. It foreshadows that in just a short time after this incident, he, too, will give his whole life in order for new life to emerge. In the same way, our financial giving can demonstrate that we desire to participate in Jesus’ love poured out for the world.
There are different types of protests. Some are peaceful and others are splashier or more extreme. Not everyone has an appetite for marching, demonstrations or even boycotting. Our giving can be our protest against the “ugly” that we see around us and around the globe. Any good protest requires planning to have the greatest effect. Perhaps it is time to look at how your giving plan is set up for new possibilities to emerge.
Dori Zerbe Cornelsen is a gift planning consultant at Abundance Canada serving generous people in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest Abundance Canada office or visit abundance.ca.