I remember attending a Christmas Eve mass at the Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool and being absolutely captured by the pageantry of the high church liturgy. The procession began with the Grand Organ's introduction to O Come All Ye Faithful that shook the very foundations of the sanctuary. As a thousand voices strained to sing above the chords the crucifer appeared at the entrance to church. Behind him came acolytes carrying torches, the lector with a jewel incrusted Bible, multiple choirs, various officers of the church in ceremonial robes carrying gold maces, the clergy in all their finery and finally at the very end the Archbishop in a gold gilt chasuble and miter holding a crosier in one hand and a small child in the other. The music and the majesty of the moment brought tears to more than one eye including my own for it seemed as if we had been transported to heaven itself. But as much as I treasured the moment there was a part of me that thought the babe in Bethlehem might think it more appropriate to celebrate his birth by finding a room in the inn for people who like his mother were left out in the cold.
I’m not trying to infer that given a different time and place Jesus would have had the same criticism of high church Anglican services as he did for the pomp and ceremony of his own but it does seem as if the church in its effort to anticipate singing with the heavenly chorus might undervalue two pennies in the plate. Of course the value of that offering was not the amount and Jesus’ observation that day was not a challenge to the wealthy to give all they had, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief. But before getting too comfortable with this text we’ll have to look deeper than our pocket books and wallets. Jesus was speaking about the attitude of the heart and in doing so made a clear contrast between those who like to walk around in long robes and those who wear rags, between those who like to sit in the best seats and those who don’t have a place at the table, between those who for the sake of appearance say long prayers and those who in their desperate need pray, Lord save me. God sees the value of the widow’s offering and it is not the two pennies but the widow herself.