My husband and I enjoy gift giving on special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. I am accustomed to receiving just one gift for such occasions. But my husband insists on several (not anything extravagant—just little things such as cookie cutters, magazines, a book I had been meaning to buy, my favorite toffees, pajamas, etc.). But what always touches me about these exchanges is the time and effort he takes to think about what I like and find these simple treasures.
On thinking about the act of giving, I am reminded of the circumstances surrounding the gift given the widow in Mark 12:42-44, who gave all she had.
In our culture, giving has become almost mechanical. It happens when we offhandedly drop loose change into the plastic container at the checkout counter. Other times we give simply because we are primed by the shrewd timing of the clerk as she rings up our purchase and asks the set question: “Would you like to give a dollar to support X Association?” We also give because it is fashionable. We take gifts to a baby shower or wedding, and present our loved ones with tokens to mark special occasions—anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations. Alternatively, we may give because we feel a sense of obligation. Whatever the motivation, giving is good for the soul and is the perfect cure for self-absorption, for it allows us to turn away from our own concerns and listen to the admonition of Christ: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4, NASB).*
Although giving at any level is commendable, God expects us to attain a higher standard of giving, going as far as to give out of our poverty. At times when we may face the loss of jobs, salary reductions, and home foreclosures, we are still asked to give to support the work of the church, to give to those in our communities who are in need, and to give to our neighbors, relatives, and friends.
So how should we respond? In these times of economic uncertainty, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to follow the example of that nameless widow. We can show that we trust God to continue to provide for us as we return the little we may have for His service and, through our actions, inspire others to do the same.
What gives worth to a gift? Is it the dollar amount? Or the type of gift? The value of the widow’s gift was in her act of sacrifice. For to give in the midst of our own need is to follow God’s example, because He gave all He had: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
My friend Jean taught me about sacrificial giving. We met at Eastern University, and shared adjacent offices. Her personality was bright, cheery, and inviting; it was a stark contradiction to the darkness of the disease she battled—lymphoma. In spite of her ongoing battle with her disease, she was there for me when I lost my father, and celebrated my engagement and marriage. I still remember her face when in spite of undergoing a taxing round of chemotherapy a few days before my baby shower, she showed up at my door. When I saw her, she looked pale and weak. “Jean,” I said, “you didn’t have to come.” She just smiled and said, “I would not miss it for anything.”
The last time I saw her, she was in the hospital and a frail shadow of her former self. It was painful for her to speak; therefore she asked me to talk instead. I did not know what to say, so I talked about my concerns. As I was about to leave, she gripped my hand tightly. In a slow and halting whisper, she said, “I will be praying for you.” I knew she meant it. In spite of her pain and with little time left, she offered a prayer for a friend.
She gave out of her poverty. God invites us all to participate in this kind of giving.
* Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Kathy-Ann C. Hernandez is associate professor for the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. This article was published September 20, 2012.