United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“A Drop in the Bucket”

Rev. Rebecca Migliore
November 11, 2018


       Plink, plink.  Maybe it wasn’t even that loud.  The sound certainly wouldn’t have garnered attention.  Not like the rippling, clinking, avalanche of coins that a large donation to the treasury would have made.  I’ve always loved playing the slot machines.  And in this digital age I miss two things.  One was the movement of placing a quarter in the slot and then pulling down on the arm, setting the reels spinning.  The other was the sound (and sight) of quarters spilling out of the bottom, collecting in the tray, when you happened to get a match.

       That’s what I imagine was the background noise that attended anyone sitting around the treasury. Clink, Clink clink, Clink clink clink. Coins hitting other coins as people slid their donations to God, to the temple, to the priests, into the box or cauldron or basket.  Of course, it might make your head swivel if there was a Clink clink clink clink clink clink clink clink.  You might want to see who was making such a large donation.

       It is human nature to be drawn to look at those who can show off the excess, the abundance in their lives.  These large donors were the rock stars and movie actors, the rich and famous set of Jesus’ time.  And this seems to have included some of the high ranking officials of the Jewish religion.  Jesus points them out to the disciples, although I’m pretty sure they all had seen the type.  You know, the people who like to be the center of attention.  They dress to be noticed.  They enjoy being recognized and greeted on the streets.  They expect to be at the head table at benefits, to be guests of honor at feasts, and to sit in the best seats in the house, including at synagogue.  We can only hope that they also enjoyed being visible when they gave their tithes, what was due to the treasury of the temple.  Look at me, their gifts said.  Look at how blessed I am by God.  Look how important I am.

       The line continued to move, with more coins striking against those already there.  And then there was a lull, a sound so soft that you had to strain to hear it.  Plink, plink.  I’m pretty sure that it was almost drowned out by the conversation and commotion that raged within the temple complex.  It certainly didn’t draw attention to itself.  No one noticed—except Jesus.

       Jesus pointed her out to the disciples.  And they looked at her.  She was probably old.  She was probably dressed in rags.  She may have been bent and lined with the hardness of her life.  She is identified as a widow, as one who didn’t have the protection of a husband in a world where that was a true necessity.  She is called poor, but in Hebrew the word gives us more information.  She isn’t identified as “poor”—one who doesn’t have a steady job.  She is identified as “poor” a beggar.  We would say, she is the poorest of the poor.

       I can imagine that the disciples looked at that woman with pity.  It is hard to see people in such dire straits.  Maybe they even regarded her with a feeling of anger.  This was what Jesus had been railing about—that the system of taking care of others had broken down.  That those high and mighty religious leaders collected their salaries from the temple, but were not making sure that the widow and orphan, the least in the society were taken care of.  It was a shame.  It was flouting what the laws required.  It was a breaking of the greatest commandments—to love God AND to love neighbor as self.

       But Jesus surprises them.  He doesn’t talk about sorrowful pity or righteous anger.  He talks about admiration.  He lifts up this woman as the ultimate example.  “Truly I tell you, she has put in more than everyone else combined.”  I can imagine the confused looks on the disciples’ faces.  What is Jesus talking about?  I didn’t hear any large donation going into the pot, did you?  I barely heard anything—certainly not a clink, maybe not even a plink, maybe it was a ting.  How could that be more in God’s eyes than all the rest.

       And on the surface they were right.  The poor widow, the woman who was poorest of the poor, this beggar had put two “small copper coins” into the treasury—which our translation says were worth a penny.  Once again our language betrays us.  The woman put two lepton into the box.  A lepton is the Hebrew word for “a tiny thing.”  In fact, if you have kept up with the latest developments in particle physics, you might have heard the word lepton—it is what atoms are formed of.  So lepton continues to be a very tiny thing.

Lepton was the smallest unit of money in circulation at the time.  It took 6 to 8 leptons to make a penny.  And this poor widow had only two of them.  How did she get these leptons?  Well, if she was a beggar, then someone had given them to her.  They had pulled the coins they had out of their pockets and given her the worthless ones.  Two leptons.

The commentator in Seasons of the Spirit says that it is important that there were two.  For it seems reasonable that if you have only two leptons, you could give one to the temple and keep one for yourself.  That would be a gift of 50%, much more than the required tithe, or 10% of your income.  It seems more than fair: give some to God, keep some for yourself.

But that isn’t what she did.  She took “what she had,” those two coins and gave them both to God.

And that is the lesson for us today.  Sometimes we think that what we do doesn’t matter.  What we give doesn’t matter.  What we say doesn’t matter.  Maybe we feel we have so little compared to others.  Maybe we feel that our deeds are so insignificant.  Maybe we think that those small kindnesses, those little touches, those few words don’t make a difference.  Jesus disagrees.

Jesus has been trying to teach the disciples (to teach us) how to see the world with God’s eyes.  The stories of Jesus’ Scripture, the Torah, have countless examples of God using those who were counted less in the world’s views, of God blessing those who were just and righteous.  The story of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz is such a story. 

Boaz takes care of a distant relative (Naomi) and her foreign daughter-in-law (Ruth), eventually marrying Ruth.  And in the telling of history through God’s eyes, it is the son of faithful Ruth and just Boaz who becomes part of the genealogical line that will produce the great King David, and finally, the one whom we call Messiah, Jesus.

So how can we respond to this Scripture?  I think it is interesting that the Greek translation of “all she had to live on” is instead “her whole life.”  That is what Jesus is advocating.  It is someone living out the greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength—with everything you have, with your whole life. 

Jesus doesn’t give us a number like 10% (which in terms of stewardship is seen as something we can only aspire to…), no, Jesus says, God wants more.  Like in the parable of the talents, God wants us to use everything that we have been blessed with, and “multiply” it. 

I find that sometimes it is easy to have intentions to do things without ever getting around to doing them!  So, how can we help ourselves to give our all to God.  Seasons of the Spirit had a few suggestions:

One is to make a “jar of good deeds”—and write “tiny” things you can do for others on tongue depressors.  When you do one, put the tongue depressor in the jar, until it’s full.  And then, start over—this time taking tongue depressors out until the jar is empty.  And start over …

Giving is something we need to practice.  It might be practicing helping others (putting the time into our calendar); or practicing saying “thank you” to God or others in gratitude prayers or notes; or maybe you are more introspective—maybe your way of practicing is to journal about sacrifice, exploring how and what you can give; or maybe you are visual and want to explore what the world of art has thought about this widow’s mite (and then find a way to share).

I think we sometimes feel what we have to give is only a drop in the bucket, and there is a parched land of need out there.  How can it ever make a difference?  When we think that way, as individuals, as a church, let us remember the poor widow, who had so little in the world’s view, just two lepton, two “tiny things,” hardly worth mentioning.  Let us remember that we are not to live as the world sees us, but as God sees us.  We are called to be like that “poor widow” who was the superstar of giving, for she gave out of her poverty, whilst all others gave out of their abundance.

As we go into this “season of giving,” where there is so much push to get the biggest, the most expensive, the newest, the best, gift we can afford for all those around us—let us hear the message of Jesus.  That what matters is giving from our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength, our all.  What matters is the “tiny things,” the leptons of kindness and grace and mercy and love that we can drop into the outstretched hands of those who we come into contact.

What matters is not just the money, but the working for justice behind the money that is important.  I loved what one politician said this week.  He knew they hadn’t accomplished all they wanted.  But he remembered that civil rights didn’t happen all at once, that women’s sufferage didn’t happen all at once.  It takes drop after drop after drop after drop to insist on justice and rightness and fairness.  We may never get to see the pool of water it creates—but we trust that God will gather all the drops together so that “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  (Amos 5:24)

May it be so.  Alleluia, Amen.