An Act of Justice

Dr. Laura Merwin

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”  (Luke 21: 1-4)

Almsgiving is an act of justice: in a world where no goods are equally distributed, almsgiving is an effort to rectify this imbalance.

It is also an act of mercy: the almsgiver does not ask whether the recipient deserves their contribution.

But even the most creative philanthropists and generous billionaires have failed—and will always fail—to establish on this earth true justice and perfect mercy. Only God has this power.

Yet Jesus could not have been clearer in his appeal, his demand, that we care for the poor. In almsgiving, he urges us to emulate—however poorly—the gift of grace that has been given to us. We are asked, in short, to contribute to building the kingdom of God.

I can’t pretend to understand what the widow was thinking when she put her two copper coins in the box. I suspect she was under no illusion as to the ultimate power of her contribution to change her society, to do anything more than briefly relieve one or two lives. But her small act joins her with other almsgivers in her time and ours, and all of us to the ultimate source of justice and mercy. When we pray thy kingdom come, it isn’t a prayer of passivity—it’s a commitment to see, to the best of our limited ability, that the kingdom does come.

Prayer: Dear God, only with your aid and in your name do we dare to take on the task of building your kingdom. Help us to do it humbly and faithfully. Amen,

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