November 7th 2021 homily on Mark 12:38-44 by Pastor Galen
A Memorable Gift
Oseola McCarty spent a lifetime making other people look nice. Day after day, for most of her 87 years, she took in bundles of dirty laundry and cleaned and ironed her customers clothes for them to wear to parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never had the chance to watch.
McCarty, an African-American woman, was born in rural Mississippi in 1908, and was raised by her grandmother and aunt. Her aunt became ill while McCarty was in the 6th grade, and so McCarty dropped out of school to care for her aunt, and to work in the family laundry business to help her family make ends meet.
Although sad that she was unable to finish her education, McCarty was a diligent and hard worker who took pride in her work. She woke up early in the morning to wash and launder clothes for her clients, hanging them up outside on a clothesline to dry, and then ironing the clothes late into the night. Even when the technology became available she refused to use a washing machine, believing that “the washing machine didn’t rinse enough, and the dryer turned the whites yellow.” And so she did all of her washing and ironing by hand all the way until the arthritis in her hands forced her to retire in 1995, at the age of 87 years old.
Throughout her life, McCarty lived very frugally. She cut the toes out of her shoes if they did not fit right, and patched up her Bible with scotch tape to keep it from falling apart. She saved whatever money she could, dutifully depositing it in the bank for safe keeping. McCarty said, I never would take any of it out. I just put it in. . . . It’s not the ones that make the big money, but the ones who know how to save who get ahead. You got to leave it alone long enough for it to increase.”
When she finally retired from the laundry business, McCarty, who had been paid in little piles of coins and dollar bills her entire life, found that she had $280,000 in the bank. Since she felt that that sum was more than she could ever use, McCarty decided to make a donation of $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to fund scholarships for worthy but needy students seeking the college education she was never given the opportunity to obtain.
McCarty said, “I wanted to share my wealth with the children…I never minded work, but I was always so busy, busy. Maybe I can make it so the children don’t have to work like I did.”
Now, $150,000 was not the largest gift that the University of Southern Mississippi had ever received, but it was certainly one of the most memorable. The executive director of the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation (the foundation that administers donations to the school), said this about McCarty’s gift: “I’ve been in the business 24 years now, in private fundraising And this is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this from an individual who simply was not affluent, did not have the resources and yet gave substantially. In fact, she gave almost everything she has.”
Everything She Had
In Mark 12, Jesus made a similar observation about a poor widow who put a meager offering of two copper coins into the temple treasury. In those days, the temple put collection boxes outside the temple courts so that even those who were not deemed worthy to come into the inner courts – such as gentiles and women – could still give their offerings to the Lord. The offering containers were large metal trumpet-like receptacles into which you could pour your temple money, causing a clinking and a clanking that would ring across the open court, drawing attention to any who were in the area. No doubt some would arrange their giving in such a way as to make the loudest sound possible, hoping to wow the bystanders with their wealth and supposed generosity.
This poor widow’s offering, however, would have only a small clink when dropped into the offering box. Hardly noticeable at all in the midst of all the noise and activity that took place in the outer courts of the temple.
But although her gift was miniscule in comparison to the much wealthier people who were making a big show of putting large sums of money into the offering plates, Jesus said that this poor widow “has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).
Just a few verses earlier, Jesus had warned against the religious leaders of his day who “devour[ed] widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers” (Mark 12:40). It might seem odd then that here in verses 43 to 44 Jesus praised a widow who gave all that she had to the very religious institution that was known for swindling other poor widows such as herself out of their hard-earned money.
But in commending this woman’s sacrificial gift, Jesus was not condoning the way that the religious institutions of his day displaced poor widows, or hurt and harmed the marginalized. If anything, he was drawing attention to the disparity and injustice that was taking place in the temple courts. But at the same time, Jesussaw this woman’s sacrificial generous gift, and he lifted her up as an example of the type of generosity to which he wanted his disciples to aspire.
Giving is Its Own Reward
There are multiple reasons why we give. We give not only because there’s a compelling need, or because we’re confident that the money we give is going to be used in the most strategic manner, or to do the most good. We give because, as Jesus said elsewhere, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and because, as we read in the book of Isaiah “… if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).
There is an inherent blessing in giving. The word “blessed” simply means “happy,” and a 2008 study by a Harvard Business School professor found that giving money to someone else does indeed make us more happy than spending money on ourselves, the study participants’ prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier.
Laundress Oseola McCarty knew this to be true. When a journalist from People magazine asked her why she didn’t spend the money she’d saved on herself, she answered with a smile, “I am spending it on myself.” She said, “I am proud that I worked hard and that my money will help young people who worked hard to deserve it. I’m proud that I am leaving something positive in this world. My only regret is that I didn’t have more to give.”
Giving is Contagious
There’s another benefit to giving – especially when we give sacrificially, and that is that often giving has a ripple effect. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity throughout the entire community. When one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously as well. In fact, studies have shown that altruism can spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. As a result, every person who gives can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom they do not know and or have never met.
Oseala McCarty’s gift did indeed inspire others to give. When the story broke about her inspirational gift to the university, over 600 men and women in a nearby town committed donations that more than tripled her original gift. Not only that, but cable TV mogul Ted Turner was inspired to donate a billion dollars of his own money to charity after hearing her story. He was quoted as saying, “If that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion.”
One has to wonder if the widow in Mark 12 harbored any similar hope that her meager offering might have a similarly profound impact. She knew that the two copper coins she gave would not be enough to meet all of the needs in the community around her. But, like McCarty, she committed to contributing whatever she could, knowing that all she was called to do was her part. Of course she didn’t do it for fame or recognition, and she had no idea that Jesus and his disciples were watching. But she gave all that she had out of a deep and profound trust in God’s goodness and provision, and in God’s miraculous ability to take the little bit that she had and use it for good.
He Gave His All
In giving their all, the poor widow of Mark 12 and Oseala McCarty remind us too of the One who gave his all for us. Just a few chapters later in the book of Mark, Jesus willingly laid down his life for us by dying on the cross. Jesus could have performed a miracle to avoid his own crucifixion. As Jesus himself pointed out in Matthew 26:53, he could have called twelve armies of angels to come and take him down from the cross. But Jesus gave his life willingly for us, because of his great love for the world. Jesus gave his life willingly and sacrificially, believing that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that by giving all of himself to save a world that could not save itself, then the light would shine in the darkness, and that the love of God would be revealed throughout all the earth.
How Shall We Then Live?
What can and should we do in response to this great love? Something I found interesting in an interview that was conducted with Oseola McCarty is that she said she didn’t want a building named after her, or a statue placed in her honor. Instead she wanted to have the opportunity to attend the graduation of a student who made it through college because of her gift.
And I believe that what Jesus wants more than anything is to see our lives be transformed by the amazing sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Christ’s generosity in giving himself for us should inspire us to give ourselves for others. The amazing love God demonstrated to us through Christ’s death on the cross compels us to love others. As we read in 1 John 4:11, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” And as Jesus said in John 15:13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
We’re coming up to a season of increased generosity. Many organizations see people giving more around the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Money is one way that we give. We also give of our time and our talents.
Many of you here this morning give much of your time and talents and resources in service of our church and community. Some of you here this morning may be wondering if your sacrifices have made an impact. The answer that we see in the examples of the poor widow of Mark 12, and Oseola McCarty is a resounding “yes!” As you have given generously and sacrificially of your time, talents, and treasure, your given has blessed and inspired others in ways that you may never know. You may never know how your giving has met someone’s need, or the ripple effect that was created because your giving inspired others to be generous towards others, but know that your sacrifice has made an impact.
Others of us here this morning have perhaps felt that something is missing in our lives. Maybe you’ve achieved financial security, and maybe you’ve even been able to spend your money on things that you thought would make you happy, but it’s left you feeling unsatisfied.
I want to suggest to us this morning that amassing more and more wealth is not what makes us happy. But rather it is in giving that we are blessed. And so I would encourage us to follow the examples of Oseola McCarty and the poor widow of Mark 12, and to try giving generously and sacrificially of our time and talents, above and beyond what we’re comfortable with. Let us test the theory that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and let us give in response to all the blessings that God has given to us.
May we not give for the sake of drawing attention to ourselves or making our names great, but rather may we give in order to experience the blessing that comes from giving to others, and to inspire generosity in the community around us. Let us give generously and sacrificially in response to the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, recognizing our need and dependence on God, trusting and believing that God can take the little we have, and multiply it for something great.