I paused momentarily in the doorway, purposefully assessing my surroundings. We had just disembarked from the tram, negotiated the dusty corridor of a rundown furniture factory, and entered an abandoned warehouse. My friend and I had accepted an invitation to have dinner in this place by a family we had met in church while doing missions work in Russia. It was 1997, and the war in Armenia to the south of Russia had forced many to flee their country. Our hosts had left everything they owned and escaped with only their lives. The mother had cancer and the father had taken the only job he could find—locking doors in the dilapidated factory complex. As part of his salary, his employers allowed him to provide shelter for his family in one of the vacant buildings.
As I scanned the room, I noticed the lack of running water, the boarded-up windows covered with plastic, and the single electric heater. Someone had divided the room into two sections by positioning a row of cabinets in the center, providing the illusion of privacy for the beds arranged on the far side.
We spent the whole afternoon in the makeshift apartment, attempting to converse with the little bit of Russian we knew and the little bit of English they knew.
Then it was time to eat.
Because they had so little, they could not offer a fancy meal. Instead, they provided the best they had—noodles tossed with a red sauce alongside the Russian staple of bread and sausage. To top it off, they proudly produced a bottle of cheap cola.
The food wasn’t much as far as culinary delicacies go, but few meals have meant more to me. It was truly a sacrifice. The provisions came not out of their abundance, but in spite of their poverty. It may not have been extravagant, but it was a sacrifice.
Jesus experienced a similar situation as He observed people bringing their gifts to the Temple. One by one, rich folks emptied the contents of their oversized money bags into the treasury with great flair. The resulting clang reverberated throughout the Temple, testifying to the apparent piety of the donors. I can almost see the priests tripping over themselves to go and shake hands with these important patrons.
Then a little widow woman came along. Clutched tightly in her wrinkled fist was a small change purse. It was obvious that whatever she gave, it would make little difference in the Temple’s annual budget. What did she think she was doing here? Would not her place in line be better occupied by someone who could give something of consequence?
When her turn came, she opened a little change purse and dumped out the entire contents—two little coins.
The priests likely glared at her with disdain, secretly wishing she would quickly move on and clear the way for someone who was able to make a significant contribution.
Jesus, however, saw it a different way. He announced to His disciples that “this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury” (Mark 12:43).
Imagine their shock. How could a couple of small coins surpass the value of the lavish donations provided by the wealthier citizens?
The answer was simple. The size of the gift made no difference to Jesus. Proportionally, the widow gave more than the others.
Apparently God is more concerned that we give of what we have rather than that we give as much as the next guy. If God has blessed you with more, give more. If you have little, then don’t feel bad because you can’t give as much as someone else. The widow didn’t make excuses. She just gave what she had. That’s OK, because God is more concerned with the heart than with the gift.
That’s the lesson I learned that cold Sunday afternoon in early March as I sat around an old table in an abandoned warehouse with a poverty-stricken family of refugees. God wants us to use what we have. Our gifts are sweet to Him if they come out of our poverty rather than our excess.
This article appeared in the Bremen Enquirer in my column Connections: Relating the Bible to Everyday Life on Thursday, June 30, 2016.