Penury is a new word for me. I just learned it, but I like it. It settles well into the story I’ve been trying to get my mind around. It’s a King James kind of word, and of course, I like that.
It’s used to describe the widow in Luke chapter 21, the one who gives a gift of two mites to the temple treasury.
Apparently, Jesus had been mingling with the folks in the temple, the good guys and bad guys, the kind of folks generally seen about a temple, and having some difficult, though enlightening, conversations. Some of the folks listening were for him and others were against him, but all of them were intrigued.
The story says that Jesus looked up and saw the widow, which seems funny to me, like it was unexpected for him. Just the right time for a widow to show up and give him another nail to drive into the coffin of our selfishness.
In the preceding verses, he was railing on the scribes; about how they made long prayers just for the show of it, and how they devoured widows’ houses. I can only imagine what that means, but I’d hate to have it said about me.
Then, he looks up . . . She’s there, in line among the rich and whole, and making her way to the temple treasury, seemingly unaware of her audience. She drops her two mites into the box and quietly shuffles along.
Jesus says the rich folks, in line around her to make their own offerings, are giving out of their disposable income, their excesses and wealth, their abundance. They gave more than the widow, but his point was that what they gave cost much less.
The widow gave out of her penury, the King James says, meaning, as I’ve just learned, from her destitution, her need, her want, her inadequacy, and her insufficiency. Jesus also adds that she was giving all she had.
Penury. I like that word. I can relate to that. I think all of us, as Christians, are familiar enough with the idea of our own insufficiency and need to relate well to that term. We are fairly capable of recognizing our inadequacy. It’s a step we take when we recognize our need for a savior and accept his offering.
It’s the part about giving out of penury, though, that I’m haunted by. Over the last few months, I’ve been pursued by this little 4 verse story about this widow.
The truth is, in one significant way, I’m nothing like her. I’m not poor. Of course, I’m needy and insufficient in the deep, spiritual way, and I recognize the way Christ covers that need and fills me to overflowing. With him I’m whole, but only with him.
Otherwise, though, in terms of earthly provision, support, health, relative peace and comfort, I’m one of the rich folks, relatively speaking. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any money. But, the reason I don’t have any is simply that I’ve spent it all, not that I don’t really have any to begin with.
You all know the statistics, at least generally, as I do, that if you make more than some number of dollars far too commonly made by folks in the U.S., you’re in the top 1% (or 10%, or some other tiny fraction) of the wealthiest people in the world. So among my neighbors and culture, I feel poor, but the truth is, I’m wealthy, in world-wide relative terms.
On the other hand, this isn’t about money at all, really, is it? Jesus talks about money a lot, but I don’t get the feeling he really cares about money. I mean, he ususally speaks of it with disdain and as something we should be a lot less concerned about, and as something that serves more as a trap and an obstacle than an enabler. I mean, Jesus never really says anything like “Hey, get all the money you can get, and then give away a bunch of it,” does he? Maybe he does.
It seems to me the direction of his talk is always about giving it all away. But, I don’t think he was so concerned about giving it all away just because other people need my money more than I do, although clearly many people do. I think he was more concerned about all of us needing none of it, and wanting it far too much. Like giving it all away was the best way to free us of concern from it – to set the captives free, so to speak.
In other words, it seems our hearts are held captive by such concerns, and it seems Jesus is much more concerned about our hearts than our money. He says somewhere else, that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be, and so it seems, he would want us to have our treasures in and of the right things so our hearts will be in the right place.
I can’t seem to say it clearly enough. Maybe this: When Jesus directed us to lay up treasure in heaven, I don’t think that he was concerned about the treasure, but I think he was concerned about our hearts being in heaven, because our hearts will be wherever our treasure is.
I want to treasure what he treasures, and I’m certain those are heavenly things, and so I think I’ll need to give all that I am away, so my heart will be free to treasure the heavenly things. All of it. All of me. All of everything. The key is the “all” part – that’s the distinction pronounced by the poor widow: She gave her all.
Is it possible that’s related to the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with ALL of your heart, soul, strength and mind. How much of those things should I love him with? All of them.
All of them?
I’m pretty sure, I’ve given less than all, and loved with less than all. In fact, I’ve mostly given out of my abundance of those things, the excess, the disposable, available portions that haven’t been committed to other priorities. I thought I was giving alot, but I think I’ve misunderstood.