The Worst (and Best) Passage for Generosity Sermons

The widow’s mite story is about more than her sacrificial giving.

These days, Ira Glass is famous for inspiring an infinite number of podcasts that want to be just like his public radio show This American Life. But back in the mid-1990s, Glass’s initial claim to fame was for raising money during public radio pledge drives. Glass initially grew his show by telling station program directors that they could have his pledge spots so long as they carried his program. They still do: He remains public radio’s most effective fundraiser by far, with his earnest pleas to “give selfishly” to keep listeners’ favorite shows on the air and reminding them why they love public radio.

Churches have an Ira Glass too—a ringer guaranteed to bring the checkbooks out every time. And what makes her even more remarkable than Ira Glass is that she doesn’t even say a word. She just throws two small coins into an offering box and walks away.

The “poor widow” of Mark 12 and Luke 21 gets more homiletical airtime than most of the apostles. She’s there for every Stewardship Sunday, front and center of every capital campaign. Her two small coins have inspired billions of additional gifts as she’s served as an example of the kind of giving God desires.

And so far as they go, the lessons we’ve taken from the story of the widow’s mite are true: God cares not about the size of the gift but about the size of the sacrifice. What matters is not the amount that one gives but the amount that one keeps for oneself.

But this isn’t the story where Jesus commands, Sell all you have and give. This is the story where Jesus commands, Watch out! Perhaps this story isn’t so much about how we should be more like the widow. Perhaps it’s more about …

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