One of the most poignant incidents of Jesus’ last days before His death on the cross is this one:
“[While sitting in the temple] Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:1-4 & also Mark 12:41-44 – emphasis added)
This familiar story (usually referred to as “the widow’s mite” for the puniness of her offering) is, of course, a common text for stewardship sermons in that it emphasizes the truth that the value God places on our response to Him is not measured by the absolute quantity, but rather the loving quality of the gift. But there is a question embedded in this story that is not so frequently noted: Wasn’t it callous of Jesus to watch this impoverished woman put “all she had to live on” into the offering box when there were wealthy people around capable of much larger sums? Surely, in His compassion for her situation, Jesus could have spared her such a ‘pointless’ and ‘risky’ gift? Why didn’t He walk over and say: “Here now, you don’t need to do that!” or perhaps He could have slipped her a few coins instead. That would seem to be the loving thing to do, but Jesus doesn’t seem to do anything to offset the hardship of her gift. Why not? Was He more interested in her mite than her plight? Hardly!
Knowing Jesus to be the paragon of loving behavior, it seems reasonable to draw the conclusion that He let her make this sacrifice not despite, but because of His love for her. Or to put it a different way, Jesus knew that letting her make this difficult offering to the Lord was a privilege and a blessing that He did not want to deny her.
One of the worst pieces of stewardship advice ever given was “give till it hurts!” Now, in one sense this is pretty good advice in that it emphasizes that just skimming “what I don’t need” off the top of our abundance isn’t really a very meaningful gift – no matter how big an amount that might be. But the unfortunate thing about this advice is the implication that giving to the Lord is painful! The reality is just the opposite – it’s a blessing! If you doubt this, talk to someone you know who is in the habit of making sacrificial stewardship a part of their life. What you won’t hear is how this has deprived them, but rather you’re likely to hear how Luke 6:38 has been fulfilled in the joy of their experience.
The Bible is chock-full of reminders that all we have comes from God, and that He is committed to continually caring for us as our loving Father. The God who died for us on the Cross certainly isn’t going to abandon us in our daily needs! Now we need to recognize that God doesn’t condone reckless behavior in the guise of trust (Matthew 4:5-7). But when we place our trust in God, not to test Him, but to honor and serve Him, we are assured that we can count on His care. (Matthew 6:25-34, Romans 8:28)
Psalm 34 is an ancient song of praise by a man (David) who had personally experienced God’s abundant blessings in the face of many adversities. Verse 8 summarizes his experience: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” This is an invitation (and promise) that we can profitably apply to our life of stewardship.
Taking a “giant leap of faith” is not the way most disciples of Jesus discover the blessings of generous stewardship (though it can be a very rewarding one). Rather, they take a ‘taste’ and discover the sweetness of God’s blessings. If you spend time around a small child you know how difficult it can be to get them to try an unfamiliar food. “Just take a little bite!” we say, and are then often rewarded by a smiling “I like it!” It’s like that with stewardship of our time, talents, and treasures – we may not be able to bring ourselves to take a huge bite the first time – but challenging ourselves with a manageable ‘nibble’ of faith will lead to a hunger for more.