Jesus our Teacher: The Gift of the Poor Widow

Introduction: In today’s story from Mark (the story is found also in Luke), Jesus observes people giving money to the temple treasury. Some people are giving large amounts of money. A poor widow gives two coins, not much money, but Jesus says that it is all she has to live on. As a widow she is already one of the most vulnerable members of society. As a poor widow she is without the resources that she needs to live.

The story of the Widow’s gift of two coins (equivalent to about a penny in today’s terms) is one for which the meaning at first seems apparent, but after you spend a bit of time with it, you wonder if there is more to it than you first thought. The common lesson from this text has been something like “Give everything to God,” or as a minister I knew used to pray before the offering, “God we wish we could jump right in that offering plate ourselves.” We could assume that this alone is the lesson in the text: give all of who we are (or what we have) to Jesus. Certainly there are other places in Scripture where we are told to do just that. Jesus’ calling of the disciples to “follow” him is one example where people are asked to give their entire live to the ministry of Christ.

I wonder, if there is more to the text. Why is this woman without in the first place? Jesus comes from a community that had been told by God to care for the widow and the orphan. Later Christians (not much later as we see this in the book of Acts) interpreted this to mean that a proper response to God’s commands and Jesus’ minister was that none in the community were in want. In a community that is supposed to care for the poor, oppressed, vulnerable, and marginalized, why is a poor widow giving “all that she has to live on”? What is more, only a few verses earlier, we learn that Jesus is criticizing the scribes for “devouring widow’s homes.” Hypocritical leaders take everything—even all the woman has to live on—and, in exchange, fail in their larger task to be for the widow and orphan. Is this widow an example of someone who has been taken advantage of or devoured by the ostentatious displays of particular sectors of the religious community?

Jesus as a teacher does not only tell what to do and then provide models or examples of what we ought to do, he also criticizes that way things are and offers an alternative in the kind of community that forms around him. Such a statement, of course, begs the question of what the story requires from us? What kind of people does Jesus want us to be in response to this story?

Learning objectives

(1.) Children will tell the story of the Widow’s mite in their own words

(2.) Children will identify one way in which this story is significant for the prophetic teaching of Jesus.

Gather: You may want to have a coloring sheet or game available as everyone arrives and gets settled.

Hear the Word: Read the story from Mark 12: 38-44.

Note: For this story, I felt that most of the children’s Bibles were quick to jump to a lesson (“give everything to God”) without letting us work out the details of Jesus prophetic critique of the status quo. If you are interested in telling this story to young children while being attentive to the prophetic critique, try using suggestion number 1 below.

Respond to the Word:

(1.)  Interactive storytelling: Interactive storytelling paraphrase the story yourself. After making a claim in the story, use a question to prompt reflection from students. For this story, you might begin like this: “Sometimes we forget about all of the people we know who have really hard lives. Who do you know who has a hard life? Are there people you know who are poor, lonely, cold at night, or sick? (Possible answers: homeless, grandparents who cannot leave their homes or who live in assisted living facilities, kids at school without lunch, people living with diseases). Offer an opportunity for students to share stories about people they know who have a hard time. In Jesus’ day, it was very hard to be a widow. A widow is someone who was married before their husband died. A widow had a hard time making enough money to have food or a house and even though it was hard for the widows to live in Jesus time, a lot of people forgot about them […].” As you continue to tell the story of the poor widow, ask students to make connections with the poor, oppressed, and marginalized people they see around them. When you finish the story, you might ask “what should the leaders have done instead? What do you think Jesus wanted them to do for the poor widow? Do you think you would respond to the woman just like the leaders did? Or, would you respond differently?”

(2.) Ministries of the Church Conversation: Have a conversation how the church responds to Jesus critique of the status quo. Talk about what the Church of the Holy Family does to minister to those in need. There may be special ministries you would like to talk about—perhaps visitation of the sick or shut-in—that show how other needs for care or friendship can be addressed by the Church’s ministries.  Are there people in our church who can help us identify people who have need? What can we do to make sure that others have all that they need to live and flourish?

(3.) Gift Box for Church Ministries: As a class, make an offering box labelled with one of the churches ministries (If you did activity 2, focus on the ministry you talked about). If you do a visitation ministry, for example, maybe you would like your students to bring a handmade card (or, if you have time) make one to put in the box. Tell your class that you will find the leader of this ministry and give them the box to share with the people their ministry is for.

(4.) Act out the story: After reading the story to the children, ask the Children to tell the story to one another in small groups. Ask them what they found most interesting or important about the story. Ask if there is a way they would change the story if they could. Then, as a class, act out the whole story of the poor widow.

(5.) Coin Relay Game- Here is a game you can use to encourage your students to think about the story (“Offering relay” on the list).

(6.) Coin Coloring Craft- Here is an image of a Roman coin that looks like what the woman may have had. Ask your students to draw the coin and draw a penny. Think of all of the things a penny could buy (or a dollar). For the widow, it may have been enough for her food for the day. Ask your students what they think about the size of the gift? What do they think about the widow?

(7.)  Coin “Life” game: Make a game board (it can look like candy land, a series of boxes arranged in a serpentine shape). Write expenses in each of the boxes (“Food 1 penny,” “housing 2 pennies,” “buy a book 1 penny,” etc.). Give each child a number of pennies ranging from 10-15. Tell them that there are things they have to buy—food, clothing, shelter, and hospital care—and things they can buy if they would like—books, car, toys. As a class move forward one space at a time. Go around the class and ask if each student would like to purchase what is in the game space. If they want what is in the space, they pay the “bank/you” and if they want to pass they can say “pass” and save their money. In the second to last game board space put “offering” and in the last space put one of the things they must buy. When you reach the offering box, go around and ask each student how many pennies they have remaining. What are they going to do with the pennies? Is it a hard decision? Do they put the money in the offering and spend it all or do they wait and purchase food? Is there a way to do both even if someone is out of pennies? Is there someone else who is willing to share from the extra pennies that they have? Use the game to show how the community can always make sure that people are cared for so that they do not have to choose. We should be able to give all that we have to God and trust that God, through our community, will help provide all that we need.

Close in Prayer

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