Cheap. That’s how the poor widow looked putting her paltry halfpennies into the collection box. In contrast to her, the rich patrons appeared extravagantly generous as they threw in their surplus coinage.
Jesus had been watching it all, there in the temple courts of Jerusalem. He had deliberately sat himself down “opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.” He had at least two purposes in mind by sitting there in that front row seat for what had become The Collection Show: He wanted to observe a behaviour common in that community, and He wanted to teach His disciples to observe.
Everyone was putting money into the temple treasury box that day. That was the ordinary thing to do. Some put in a little, some threw in a lot; everyone, it seems, contributed. In that culture it was the routine, the status quo. It was the ordinary, commonplace, usual thing to do. But Jesus observed something about that ordinary occupation. He saw a split and distinction that no one else had noticed.
“This poor widow,” observed Jesus, speaking to His disciples, “has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”
Is that true? Is there really more significance to some acts than others? Can a lesser act embody greater significance than its richer counterpart? Can ordinary actually be extraordinary?
C.S. Lewis introduces an idea he calls Transposition to describe a phenomenon into which I think Jesus’ teaching fits. Lewis says, “Transposition occurs whenever the higher reproduces itself in the lower.” For instance, a variety of emotions can be experienced by the one sensation of an adrenaline rush. The same kick and flutter of the diaphragm accompanies a moment of joy and a moment of horror, an exciting sport and an unexpected piece of news. The one sensation must communicate the diverse possibilities that stimulated its release. The limited physical sensation must express a much larger set of emotional situations. While the adrenaline rush always the feels the same, it must communicate one of many ideas as the situation warrants.
If, says Lewis, we approach the Transposition from below, we might assume there could only be one meaning to the ordinary actions of life. But if we approach it from above, as we do with the emotion-sensation experience, we understand the full significance of what is happening.
Jesus is showing us that in the spiritual realm, in the great vast higher reality in which God’s character of virtue is made available to those who will submit to Him, the extraordinary is transposed into the ordinary. The greater infuses the lesser with significance. Equally, vices like selfishness and pride, while hidden in ordinary acts, infuse those acts with a corruption that both heaven and hell see clearly.
The poor woman expressed her undying faith in God by giving Him her last fraction of a penny. The others expressed their trust in the value of public opinion by giving a fraction of their all. On the surface they all appear ordinary, but there is more, much more than the ordinary eye can see.
When we use ordinary opportunities to express our faith, God transposes great value and significance into them and they go beyond ordinary. So take heart. Your ordinary life and mine can embody the extraordinary significance that pleases God and gives meaning to our lives. Acts of faith take us beyond ordinary.
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Adriana Hidalgo Zamora)