Abundance and Scarcity

Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.

Let’s speculate a little, and talk about the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4).

Even when reading the story in its context, we’re without any indication of what the widow was thinking or feeling as she made her gift. Aside from her making the gift, all else we know is that she gave all of her livelihood.

Why would she do this? We do know something about the struggle for simple survival some 2000 years ago. Women were not treated as equals of men, and their ability to own land, or much else was largely absent. A widow had a particularly hard life. Jewish Law had some protection, in as much as a widow was expected to be married to a male relative of her late husband. That wasn’t an endorsement of polygamy, it was a necessary practice to prevent widows from being outcast, reduced to begging for alms, or worse.

A traditional reading of the story leads us to appreciate the abundance of God’s gifts in our lives. But if we consider that just maybe Jesus was not sent into this world to start a church, but to help us see, and undo, the injustice of the social and legal system we have built up, a very different reading could emerge: did the requirement to make gifts to the temple have such a strong hold on the widow, that she gave her last possessions? That’s irrational, I think we can agree—but are we immune to such irrational behavior? Could she not have kept one of the mites for the next day? Maybe, but she didn’t!

Perhaps she responded not only to pressure from the temple system, responded not only from a foundation of a deep and abiding faith that God would provide, but also from a perspective of abundance that we find hard—maybe even impossible—to appreciate. How can somebody living at the very edge of survival think of the little she has as not only enough, but perhaps as living in abundance? For many of us, living in comfortable housing, enjoying food brought to our tables from distant parts of the world, for whom clothing has become a consumable, transportation is comfortable, health care is available, the notion of “it’s enough” is still hard to come by. We act, if we are honest with ourselves, out of a perspective of scarcity: it’s never enough, there’s always a drive for more.

That drive for more has led to unimaginable prosperity for some members of our society, and poverty that should knot our stomachs in guilt for other members of our society. What if we could indeed appreciate the abundance in our lives? What if we could see, while there’s always a possibility of more, there’s also a possibility of “enough?” What if we were to approach sharing what we have from a perspective of “enough” instead of a perspective of scarcity? What if we were to limit how much we do in and for this world, so we have time to commune with God? Just try to imagine the world we could create!

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