As a fundraising consultant, a lot of my work involves advising churches on raising money for major building projects, often costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds. Part of the process includes a challenge to church leadership teams and congregations to ‘step up’ to this particular plate, and to consider personal gifts far in excess of what they are used to.
Reactions can vary but without fail someone will challenge me back with – well, admonish really: “But we shouldn’t ignore/forget/look down on the Widow’s Mite.”
In making this point my critic is usually suggesting that modest contributions are just as valuable as huge ones. They could not be more wrong!
First of all, no major building project is ever achieved just through ‘modest contributions’. The Pareto Principle or 80:20 rule almost always applies—80% of the money comes from 20% of the givers. Large scale projects need significant levels of giving – much more than people are generally used to when making their regular weekly offering.
But of far greater significance is the lesson Jesus drew from the generosity he observed in the temple. He made no reference to ordinary folk making modest contributions – he only drew attention to the rich making their gifts, and by contrast to the widow giving her two mites. He is quoted as saying “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
While it is true that Jesus said that the widow had given ‘more’ than the rich people, I don’t think for a moment he was suggesting that her gift had had a larger impact on how much was in the treasury. I think his point was that her sacrifice was total—she gave all she had.
Before writing this piece I went back to the Bible passage to refresh my memory, and I was powerfully struck by two things that I hadn’t noticed before in the ‘Story of the Widow’s Mite’. . Firstly, it isn’t a story or parable – this is something Jesus actually witnessed. And secondly this isn’t about the widow’s mite (singular) – she had two mites. So she had a choice. With one mite it was all or nothing. But with two mites in her hand …. how easy (and perhaps wise) might it have been to give one mite (half of all she had) to the treasury, and to keep the other mite for her own needs (which were clearly substantial). But no, she chose to give them both. She gave all she had. Open-handed, open-hearted.
This is a witness account with a radical, counter-cultural message and far from offering a convenient excuse for modest giving it throws us a massive challenge: how open-handed and open-hearted are we prepared to be?
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blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.