by Heather Bock
In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus sat near the temple treasury. He had just finished discussing with leaders, some of whom were trying to trap Him with His words (who, by the way, were no match for Jesus’ deft verbal maneuvering). Maybe He was tired, but He wasn’t too tired to notice someone not normally noticed.
The treasury was a place where people donated money for service of the temple and support of the poor (Strong’s). In the position where He rested, Jesus could observe the people coming and going, making their donations to the treasury box. He saw many rich people putting in large amounts of money, but He didn’t remark on any of these. It wasn’t until a poor widow came with her offering of two small copper coins (worth around a dollar a piece) that He called His disciples to Him.
He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:43-44). Not only did this woman give all she had, but did you notice she partly gave it to the poor? I don’t think I have to spell out the irony.
I could talk about the woman’s generosity, about giving with sacrifice, and about not giving to look good in front of others. However, I want to focus on the way others may have seen the woman. Let’s face it: she didn’t look too impressive. Jesus had to call His disciples over to point her out. They wouldn’t have noticed her on their own. She didn’t come with coins jangling in a large pouch. She only had two to rub together, easily carried hidden in one hand. I bet she wasn’t wearing beautiful clothing like some of the others. She was probably inconsequential to the people there, overlooked, unobserved. Nevertheless, in God’s eyes, she was the most impressive to show up that day.
Would I have noticed her, especially not knowing her story? Would you have?
In February, I was in close proximity to several famous people in the Christian world all at once. I don’t consider the character of these women to be the equivalent to the character of those well-known rich people making their temple offerings, as I believe these women do give generously and sacrificially of their time, money, and talents to the Church. They were women who were at the conference to mentor a younger generation, leaders to whom I needed to listen. However, (not to their blame at all) they were famous, beautiful, well-dressed women to be noticed, and it was easy to keep my eyes on them. In fact, it was hard not to glance at them during worship (when my eyes were to be on God alone) to see how they were worshiping. I had hopes of bumping into one in between sessions, but I can tell you, I didn’t take another glance at the people vacuuming up our mess.
Every human being, obscure to brilliant, is deserving of respect, as each is an image-bearer of God Himself.
Not only do we need to focus on those normally unnoticed, but we also can take time for those difficult people we would rather avoid. After all, those who appear to have bad character might be farther along than ones that appear to be more sanctified. I love C.S. Lewis’s treatise of this when he compares a cantankerous old Christian woman with a pleasant and popular non-Christian. He says, “Who knows how much more cantankerous the old maid might be if she were not a Christian, and how much more likeable the nice fellow might be if he were a Christian? You can’t judge Christianity simply by comparing the product in these two people; you would need to know what kind of raw material Christ was working on in both cases” (Lewis, God in the Dock (1944), p. 59).
What does this mean for us? We must be more generous with our judgment (speaking to myself first of all), allowing for what God alone might know about a person, no matter what they might seem to be. In addition, just because a person is never in the spotlight, it doesn’t mean that person is less of a Christian. Our teaching pastors are not more important in God’s eyes than the man who faithfully comes every Sunday to set out chairs or than the young mother missing the service so she can teach a Sunday School class to four-year-olds.
We must take time to notice those most often not noticed in our society: the ill-dressed poor man in the DMV waiting room, the shy wallflower at the company party, the woman a different skin color from us bussing tables at our favorite restaurant, the janitor cleaning up the women’s restroom, or the young checker at the grocery store. We must be different from the rest of the world: smile and go out of our way to make inconspicuous or difficult people feel noticed, comfortable, and respected. Say thank you where disregard is the norm. We can give a hug to an angry woman we know or ask her deeper questions than we had previously dared. Who knows what pain we might find hiding inside her?
Jesus was a very busy man, but He wasn’t too busy to laud the previously unlauded woman. Let us not be too busy to notice the unnoticeable, either.