Small is Big, Little is Much

“The Lord loves the righteous” (Psalm 146:8b)

We learn this week of the impoverished widow of Zarephath whom God has commanded to feed Elijah during the drought imposed on the land and populace as a consequence of their persistent wrongdoing; and in the gospel, we have the account of a poor widow who contributes “two small copper coins” to the temple treasury, adding her negligible gift to the abundance that others have contributed.

Immediately prior to the account of the widow’s mite, Jesus warns his hearers against those in leadership who love their positions of influence and use them to get respect from others and numerous other privileges.

Among their outrages is that they “devour widows’ houses.” Jesus does not condemn those who give large amounts, nor those in positions of leadership as such. He condemns “hypocrisy” — the abuse of leadership and falsity in prayer exercised solely for personal profit and aggrandizement without regard for genuine godliness or even mere altruism.

The widow in the gospel contributes “all she had to live on,” which is set in stark contrast to those who “devour widows’ houses.” The first is godly generosity and spiritual virtue; the second is rapacious exploitation of the powerless by conscienceless hypocrites. It is no wonder that Jesus pronounces that these “will receive the greater condemnation.” For us the evident lesson is that God does not demand wealth — he demands sacrifice. That is, the amount of the gift is almost unimportant. Of greatest significance is that a giver be conformed by his giving more and more into the way of virtue.

God desires the full hearts of his people, and their gift-giving is a vital part of being shaped in sanctity. An offering, however, even in large amount, which is a substitute — or worse — for genuine offering of self is loathsome to God. The sobering fate of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) was not pronounced because they’d kept back money from the church and lied about it, but because their action showed that they had turned utterly away from God.

Although God informed Elijah, “I have commanded a widow there to feed you,” this is apparently news to the widow, for she knows of no specific command that she is to feed the prophet. She is willing, however, to share her pitifully meager resources with the prophet just on his say-so that the Lord will keep her and her son supplied. This is sufficient “command” for her, who shows the characteristic generosity of goods found in those who are truly faithful.

Look It Up

How did King David respond when Araunah offered to give him everything he needed to offer a sacrifice to the Lord? See 2 Sam. 24: 18-25.

Think About It

Why did King David make that answer to Araunah? And what did he do about it?


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