Our two cents'
by Rev. Robert J. Wagner
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
In the course of his teaching, Jesus said to the crowds, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a severe condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you , this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.
Likely we have heard the expression “my two cents” as a way to describe someone’s opinion, as in, “Before we make a final decision, here are my two cents on the subject.” In truth, the speaker usually thinks his comments are of considerable value, which is why he or she shares them so freely. To describe them as “two cents” is usually false humility. We tend to value our opinions as meaningful, and are hurt when someone else treats them as if they are worth a pittance.
The origin of the phrase “my two cents” is unclear, but perhaps it comes from this Sunday’s Gospel, in which Jesus exalts the two small coins deposited by a poor widow as being more than anything anyone else had given to the treasury outside of the Temple. Our Lord says this despite St. Mark telling us that “many rich people put in large sums.” In terms of monetary value, the widow’s two small coins are nothing in comparison to these other donations. However, because she was generous beyond her means, while they were giving from their excess, her sacrifice is greater, and her offering is more pleasing to God.
There are several lessons to glean from this observation from Our Lord. First, we recognize that Jesus praises the woman for giving out of what she could rightfully hold back for herself because of her need. In terms of our own finances, we understand this means that we are called to give in a way that makes us uncomfortable.
The widow needed the money that she gave to the Temple; perhaps offering it meant that she went without a meal or two. On the other hand, the lives of the rich people who gave so much more were not changed at all by their donations. Thus we see that our donations to the church and to those in need should cause us some discomfort, at least at first. That discomfort is due to our desire for control and our wanting to hold something back for ourselves.
Giving beyond what is comfortable is a lot to ask, but when we can do so willingly, faithfully and even joyfully, we know that our actions are pleasing to our Lord, and in time we realize it is not uncomfortable, but freeing, knowing that we are willing to sacrifice even our comfort to serve God and others.
We must also remember that this desire to cling to our worldly comfort not only refers to money. It also can be about time, talent or anything else that keep from the Lord for comfort’s sake. How much of our own hearts do we hold back from God, afraid of what he will ask of us? When we trust that his plans for us are greater than our own plans, we can be more generous and more at peace.
A second lesson we can take from the poor widow is that what we offer is not measured by its worth in comparison to others. Therefore, our generosity is not limited by our income, or our talents, or our time. When we give from our need, no matter how small or large that gift is, God recognizes the great sacrifice and transforms us through it.
This should give us comfort as we struggle to grow in virtue. Often we feel that we are overwhelmed by certain temptations, perhaps even more than those around us. While someone can eat temperately, act chastely, and give without counting the cost, we may feel that our gluttony or lust or greed keep us from acting freely in those areas. This is because our capacity still needs to develop through our effort and God’s grace.
However, we should never despair, for despair is the tool of the evil one who does not want us to advance in virtue. Instead, we should offer everything we can with regards to these virtues, even if it seems meager in comparison to others. When we fall, as we often do in our primary vices, we go to Confession and resolve to try again to offer our best. In this, we continue to grow in virtue, step by step, and always confident that we are being judged and transformed by our Lord, who sees into our hearts.
Let us pray that in all things we are willing and able to give beyond our comfort level and hand control of our lives to God. It is in this sacrifice and generosity that we live as Christians, offering our best for our salvation and for the service of Jesus Christ and his church.
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