I was cleaning out my garage the other day and as I was sweeping up an assortment of nails, dust particles, grass clippings, and chunks of garbage (in all shapes and sizes), I spied something amidst the debris that had some value. By “some” I mean “very little,” about a penny’s worth of value to be exact. Well, to be very precise—it was a penny. As I swept the wreckage from my garage floor into my large (garage worthy) dust pan, I reached into the dusty mess to pull out a single penny.
What do you do in a situation like that? Perhaps Benjamin Franklin’s famous axiom passes through your head: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Not so with me. I must confess that on more than one occasion as I’ve swept out my garage, I have let random pennies experience the same fate as a chunk of cardboard or busted plastic pen caps: the trash can.
I don’t often make a habit of literally throwing away money. But to this day, I’ve probably let around 9 cents slip into garbage cans by way of my over-sized dust pan. I’m not proud of it. But let’s be honest—it’s just a penny. What kind of a difference is a single penny going to make in our lives? Can something so small and insignificant really affect anything?
A couple thousand years ago the value of a penny was more than it is today. It was still small and arguably insignificant, but it held some value, particularly if you were poor. For some it held great value, like the unnamed widow in Mark 12:41-44. For this particular woman, a single penny was the sum total of her net worth. It was “all she had to live on.” I have wondered often what was going through her mind as she made her way to the temple treasury that day, intent on giving to God her two smaller copper coins that together equaled the value of a single penny. What was it like for this woman as she arrived at the offering box, flanked on either side by wealthy people giving large sums, likely accompanied by onlookers who stood in awe of their great donations?
I wonder if she was she thinking things like:
“Wow, this donation is worth a lot more to me than it is to this offering box?”
“What difference is my offering going to make?”
“With so many others giving so much, why don’t I just keep this penny for myself?”
“How is what I’m about to give going to make any difference in the world?”
“How is history going to be affected by my meager, insignificant, pointless offering?”
There is really no way to know this, but I would wager that she wasn’t thinking any of those things. I would venture to say she was thinking something like, “I love you God, and I trust you.” This is exactly what her actions revealed. Not intimidated or deterred by those around her, the widow stepped up to the offering box and dropped in the sum total of her livelihood in worship of her God.
Did anyone notice?
What would have been going through the mind of that widow had she realized that her seemingly insignificant offering was being witnessed by God in the flesh, Jesus Christ? And that he would call his disciples together and point to her example as a posture of worship to be imitated by all who follow Him. And that for more than two-thousand years, her example of sacrificial giving would be recognized, taught on, and emulated by countless millions of God-worshippers around the world.
This widow understood that worshipping God through giving is not a matter of the gift you give, but it is a matter of the sacrifice you make. Giving that honors God is about sacrifice. The foundation of God’s kingdom is built on sacrifice, as Jesus himself sacrificed everything to bring God’s children to him.
That is a lot of mileage out of a single penny. I think in a culture where we are saturated with largesse, we can often miss the value of a penny. I don’t know about you, but the next time I’m sweeping out the garage I’m going to save the penny. If for no other reason, the penny will remind me of the widow, and the widow will point me to Jesus.