Today's Scripture Reading
The Widow's Offering
21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
It felt like a day in which we had seen heaven on earth, and I tried to communicate as much in my own moments of speaking to the crowd. Nothing more was needed; it had been a full and completely satisfactory afternoon. I thought the party was over.
Then Leonard, one of the school teachers and the translator for the afternoon, and said.: “The women have some things for you and would like you to come forward one more time.” Unsure of what was expected, we hesitantly rose from our seats and came out from behind the tables which stood between us and our Kenyan hosts. At this, the drums resumed their beat and dozens of women danced their way in from the periphery of the circle to form a tight group in the center. All carried in their hands a household item: brooms, calabashes, pots, baskets, cooking utensils and more. Leonard explained that each woman had brought one item from her home to give in appreciation for our shared partnership and work together.
With the drum providing the background rhythm, the women formed a line, singing all the while. Even before the first gift was given, I was completely humbled. Yet somehow I managed to receive the women, as one by one they came forward with their gifts. Leonard served as translator as I asked each one's name and a little about her circumstances, then received her gift with heartfelt thanks. One after another, I gazed into weary eyes and touched calloused hands. The words spoken, however, only conveyed tenderness and love, as the women mentioned their children or other family, some of the sorrows they had experienced, and their appreciation for their friends from Indiana and North Carolina.
As the line of women shortened, a young mother came forward. In her hands, a chipped clay bowl with a broken lid. She murmured something in Luo and I looked to Leonard for help. “It is her sugar bowl,” he said. She wants you to have her sugar bowl. Gently I took the bowl from her outstretched hands, passed it to the intern standing by my side and embraced the woman before me.
The widow's mite, I thought, as I hugged the woman. I have received the widow's mite.
It is impossible to convey the emotional impact of receiving such gifts from these women. Women, who by American standards have so little, had reached into their small stash of household belongings and selected something to give the visitors. What could I do but receive graciously and with a silent pledge to be a good steward of their stories and their gifts?
I live in a culture in which most decisions about what to keep and what to give away are made based on practicality and prudence. So much of American life is arranged to protect us from outside risk. This gift of a Kenyan sugar bowl stands in stark contrast to the American way. It was neither practical nor prudent for an impoverished, uneducated woman to give up her sugar bowl. She risks never having another. She cannot control whether I will make good decisions for its safekeeping. She cannot be sure I will fulfill my promise to tell her story.
For me, the gift of the sugar bowl was a moment in which radical hospitality and extravagant generosity trumped all other more practical considerations. In this season of giving and receiving presents, I realize how grateful I am for such a precious offering.
Today's devotion was shared by
Ellen is the Executive Director of the Global Interfaith Partnership, a joint project of congregations of various faiths in Indianapolis and Kenya, to support orphans and vulnerable children in the Chulaimbo District of western Kenya. Learn more about the project and lend support at http://www.globalinterfaithpartnership.com/.