She was not frightened;
the woman that Jesus spoke of.
He had looked on from a distance
as she dropped her unobtrusive coins,
two in number, small and copper,
into the large temple money box.
Was he able to hear
the soft clunking sounds produced
as they joined the pile of larger coins
in the treasury’s insistent receptacle?
The rich are calculating in their philanthropy,
lest their abundance be significantly diminished.
What does the law expect from me,
and how do I balance it against my other demands;
quite apart from my needs for comfort
and security in my old age?
How will this contribution look to my peers
as they surreptitiously glance
at the number and colour of the coins
as I make my offering?
The rich live with anxiety; their wealth
seldom delivers contentment or peace.
Any generosity that might have fed their hearts
is pressed by fear
to the borders of their being.
The widow in our story was poor, without savings
or pension; the coins, according to Jesus,
were all that she had to live on.
He concludes his story by offering her as an example
in a way that he never did with the rich.
Affirming her freedom and generosity,
he celebrates her courageous choice
to trust in God.
For a long time now
the rich have liked the church.
Across the centuries
they have accommodated themselves
to its structures, institution and power;
(it’s been mutual),
permitting the church its sphere of authority
while determinedly maintaining their own.
Striving after respectability and influence,
not to mention their reserved seats in heaven,
the wealthy have been generous
with their patronage, constructing
buttress, edifice and spire.
(To be fair, the poor
have paid for their share of gold-leaf,
stained-glass oaken beams and dressed stone, too;
more often than not, subsidising the rich.)
The affluent have joined the church’s boards,
sat in on its councils,
propounded their advice,
shared their expertise,
sought and given favours
and requested ecclesiastical blessings
upon their many enterprises.
Some suggest that the wealthy and powerful
are seen too much in the company
of presbyter and priest.
The rich, it must be said,
find Jesus bewildering.
They hear stories:
about the teacher quietly suggesting
to a virtuous man of means,
that his life would be greatly enhanced
if he sold all his stuff and gave it to the poor.
On another occasion the carpenter
outrageously asserted that God and mammon
were incompatible masters;
and when he spoke of the unlikelihood
of camels squeezing themselves
through the eyes of needles,
the rich began to get the idea
that Jesus might not have been on their side.
Still, there’s always the church.