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Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Widow's Mite

The story of the widow who dropped two coins from all she had into the Temple treasury was made more interesting today in the light of what I heard from my son today. When asked how children show gratitude to their parents (don't ask why this was a topic), he said it was by enjoying what the parents give the kids. Which sounds nice but also sounded wrong. I have no idea where he got that from. It sounds like a very noble, self-sacrificing line that a parent might say, but something's wrong. One might go and say that he can show gratitude to the Australian government by simply enjoying what the government has to give. Something's wrong. I remember something about upholding the law and other civic duties in my citizenship oath. Gratitude is the stuff of breathing in and out, of receiving and giving back. I can imagine that one might suffocate from forgetting to breathe out from time to time.

What does this have to do with the widow that Jesus praised for her generosity? I think generosity comes from gratitude. I can't imagine how Jesus would have praised the widow if she had in her heart a notion of buying off God's favor. It's not for sale. He gives it as a gift -- and He takes the initiative. He gives so much to such undeserving creatures as us, and for us to realize that (not easy) makes it easier to respond with gratitude. It turns the relationship into a proper one: not a trader and a buyer, but a Father and His child. And if all goes well, day by day the child will come into his own and become as generous as his father, and pass that on to his children as well.

It's a tough act to follow -- but it becomes possible because there is help from the Father: the Helper, the Advocate. Perhaps it can all be generalized as a continuation of the obedience learned as a child so that the child becomes a father in the image of his father before him, in the same Holy Spirit, so in gratitude, he might also be generous and give from what he has, not from his excess.