Day 3 Generosity and Jesus
“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4 (emphasis added)
In the 19th century, there was an English thinker named Thomas Malthus who in the course of his career published a book that made a big shock when it was released. What Malthus asserted in his book was that the world’s population was increasing at such a fast rate that a day was coming when there would be more people than there was food, more demand for food than there was food supply. Ever since then, this doomsday scenario has been referred to as the Malthusian catastrophe, the fear that demand will outgrow the supply.
We all live in constant fear of Malthusian catastrophes on a personal level. We worry that our own financial demands will soon outgrow our financial supply. Living in such fear, our grip on our money grows tighter. Fear keeps us from faithful generosity.
If anyone had reason to live in fear, it was the widow featured in Luke 21. In this passage, Jesus holds up a poor widow as an example of virtue all should follow. In the world of the Bible, as today, widows and orphans were especially vulnerable. She was monetarily poor and she was socially poor. Yet, she still contributed “all she had to live on” to the temple treasury. She had nothing, but she gave everything. Her human instincts would have been to hold onto her money, but she exercises generosity instead.
We are often impressed by the gifts of the rich and famous, many of who seem to go out of the way to make their charitable donations public knowledge, despite the fact that their gifts are sometimes only small fractions of their wealth. This can also be true of affluent Christians. The wording in Mark’s version of the widow’s offering seems pertinent in this connection: “Many rich people put in large sums” (Mark 12:41). As these passages remind us at the end, “they all contributed out of their abundance” (Luke 21:4 and Mark 12:44).
Exercising Biblical generosity can make us feel vulnerable and exposed. It trains us to give, not out of our abundance, but out of our lack. It is tempting for us to tighten the grip on our money, especially when we feel as though it is already in short supply. When the offering plate passes by, we have visions of a Malthusian catastrophe. When we give, we intentionally diminish our financial supply! It seems counter-intuitive and appears foolish to unbelieving friends and neighbors.
Generosity is an exercise of faith and an act of worship. It forces us not to merely trust in what we see and touch. Rather, it forces us to believe God is the provider of all we see and touch. He is able to supply us all we need. Such was the faith of the widow Jesus encountered.
Jesus always follows his teaching about the dangers of trusting in money with a long section about not worrying for basic needs like food, drink, and clothing (Matt 6:25-34). These are necessary for survival, and yet Jesus wants us to focus instead on God’s kingdom and his righteousness. When we fear a Malthusian catastrophe, God promises he will provide for our basic needs just like he does for the birds and the flowers.
The widow had every reason to worry. She had nothing but the two mites. Instead of living in fear, she chose faith. In focusing on something altogether different, she became free.
For Christians, there is no Malthusian catastrophe. We know that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). As we look to God, faith triumphs over fear.
- Where have you allowed money to have power over you by dictating your life’s purpose or pace?
- In what ways can you devalue money so as to keep it from having an unhealthy influence in your life? Name two concrete practices that can help you begin to treat money as something that is not supreme.
- What are two things that worry you that more money could “solve”? Name these two things and give them over to the same God that Genesis refers to as “The LORD will see to it” (Gen 22:14).
We confess, O Lord, that we have relied on the power of money to make us secure. We have believed that more money would solve our problems. We have looked to money to tell us who and what is important in society. Forgive us for empowering money in this way and thereby serving an idol. You alone, O Lord, deserve our allegiance. Give us the strength to treat as worthless all those things that draw our loyalty away from you—especially our money. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, enable us to give it away willingly and abundantly to make ourselves vulnerable. Then we will see that you are the one who cares for us and gives us life. Amen.