My Gran had a number of mottoes. One of them was, ‘If you share what you have, you’ll never be short.’ It’s actually a profound statement of faith, of trust that God will give us everything we need – which is not the same as everything we want!
The two widows in the readings for today obviously shared that trust. The first widow, facing the same desperation that so many people even today experience, of knowing that their food has run out and they cannot get any more, still responds to the prophet’s request for a scrap of bread. Notice that the prophet doesn’t ask for what she has left over, but asks her to feed him first, and then to feed herself and her son. His promise that her generosity will not leave her short is fulfilled: the jar of meal is not emptied and the jug of oil is not spent, but through God’s response to her generosity, she is able to continue feeding her guest, herself and her son through the long famine.
The widow who comes along to the Temple treasury is being exploited by the system: the scribes, with their love of long robes, obsequious greetings and places of honour, encourage the rich to outdo each other in extravagant giving, because they will get a share in the offerings, and the rich play along because even the large amounts they give don’t really cost them anything: they have far more than they need. But the widow is still willing to put in the money she can’t afford to give, trusting that God will look after her.
Jesus is not interested in the amounts we give, but he sees to the heart of our motives for giving and the spirit in which we give. It’s often said that the poor know how to be generous and our beautiful church is a testament to that truth. In the early 1930s people in Norris Green were not rich but, at the same time as they were looking after each other, especially those who were struggling, they also gave everything they could, including their labour, to ensure that their children and grandchildren would have a place of worship that would lift their hearts and minds to God.
We are the beneficiaries of their generosity, and we are called, as they were, to look after each other, especially those who are struggling today, and to hand on their legacy to future generations.