While dressing for a funeral the other day, I opened my jewelry box in search of a small locket which holds a widow’s mite. When I traveled to Israel for the first time, this is the only souvenir I purchased. Though this two thousand-year-old coin was worth less than a penny in Jesus’ day, it is very precious to me. The scriptures tell us that Jesus observed a widow offering a coin like this in the temple. While others gave riches far beyond her means, Jesus considered that woman’s offering to be much more generous because it was all she had. The woman had given from her want, not from her surplus.
I chose to wear my widow’s mite to the funeral because the woman being honored reminds me of the woman Jesus met in the temple that day. As I fastened my locket, I imagined God wrapping loving arms around my friend. She’d given the very best she could in spite of the difficulties she’d encountered along the way. I imagined God embracing her and saying, “Well done and welcome home, my friend!”
As I grabbed my purse and slipped into my shoes, I considered my own efforts as of late. I’ve been cranky and impatient. Though I’d like to think I know better, the pandemic has taken its toll on me. When I add my worry regarding recent natural disasters, ongoing injustice and the national discord in this country, I find that I’m brimming with the wrong sentiments. I asked myself what I’ve done as of late to improve things. Before I could answer, Someone urged me to touch the widow’s mite I wore. That Someone seemed to say, “Doing your best in easy and in difficult times really is good enough for me!”
In today’s gospel (Matthew 22:15-21), Matthew wrote that, once again, the Pharisees attempted to test Jesus and, once again, Jesus referenced a coin to teach a lesson. The Pharisees were prepared to do whatever necessary to discredit Jesus before the people and before the governing Romans. Perhaps they could rid themselves of Jesus once and for all. On that occasion, they posed a question regarding taxes: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus advised them not to pay what the Romans demanded, he would place himself in civil jeopardy. If Jesus told the people that they must pay their taxes, he seemingly encouraged their homage to a false god -the Roman emperor- by offering this monetary sacrifice. In the end, the not-so-crafty Pharisees underestimated Jesus. Jesus asked to see a Roman coin and then posed his own question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When the Pharisees answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus told them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Though a widow’s mite was too insignificant a coin to have born Caesar’s image, it proved to be just right for the widow who wished to do her duty to support the temple. In a sense, she actually “repaid to Caesar” that day because the temple’s monetary demands of the Jewish people were quite burdensome. At the same time, that widow did a good deal to care for the loved ones around her. It was through these instances of loving those God had given her to love that she repaid to God. Like that widow and Jesus’ other contemporaries, you and I “repay to Caesar” every day. Some of us report to our workplaces, while others work from home. Regardless of our locations, we get the job done. We file our taxes and we vote. We obey traffic laws and adhere to the tenets of common courtesy. These days, we also wear masks to care for one another. We manage the nitty-gritty of life as required by the order of things. At the same time, we care for our significant others, our families and friends. We also care for many whom we don’t know through a variety of acts of charity. In all of these things, we also repay to God.
As I consider the events of today’s gospel, I wonder when the Pharisees lost sight of repaying to God. When did they sacrifice their efforts to be good people for the assurance that they would keep their wealth and their power over others? When did they decide that being their best simply wasn’t enough for them? Though I can’t answer for the Pharisees, I can turn to that widow in the temple and to my friend who passed away for some guidance. The widow repaid Caesar with that tiny coin and she repaid God with her best efforts to care for others. My friend repaid to Caesar by being a dedicated employee and a good citizen. She repaid to God by doing her best to be a good spouse, mom and grandma, a good friend, a religious ed teacher, a great cook and a music lover. When illness robbed her of her personality and her ability to relate to others, she did her best not to be of trouble. Though she didn’t realize it in this life, I’m certain that my friend has been assured in heaven that she repaid to Caesar and to God in stellar manner.
This is the reason my widow’s mite is so precious to me. Every time I look at it, I hear, “It’s good enough, Mary. You’re good enough!” Today and every day, God offers the same message to each one of us. Though we or those around us sometimes question our efforts, God smiles and urges us on. Though repaying to Caesar can be a pain at times, repaying to God isn’t that difficult after all…
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