One day during his final week in Jerusalem, Jesus sat down near the temple in the court of the women to watch as people dropped money into the treasury chest. That Jesus paid attention to what was going on around him was intentional. The rich came by and with a flourish deposited their coins. Then a poor widow approached and quietly dropped in two little copper coins (worth about a penny). Jesus called his disciples over and made the point that the widow had given more than all the others because unlike those who gave what they could spare, she gave what she needed to live on (Mark 12:41-44 and parallel in Luke 21).
Obviously, there is the lesson that a gift is valued not by its monetary worth but by what it “cost” the giver, but what strikes me is the attention that Jesus gave to the activity itself. He was interested in what people were doing. If we had been there we would have noticed a certain amount of pride in how the affluent carried out their giving. By way of contrast, we would watch the poor widow as she quietly slipped the two little coins into the box. Jesus was aware of all that was going on and he wanted his disciples to be sensitive to the simple incident that demonstrated such an important point. Great lessons are often mirrored in minor acts.
What can we learn from this? One thing is that to live like Jesus is to be sensitive to all that is going on around us. Life is not a solitary journey but a communal experience. It can be as rich as we choose to make it by cultivating a conscious awareness of those who travel with us. Fixation on one’s self narrows the experience. It rules out that fullness that comes when others play a significant role in the adventure. But more importantly, a strong sense of what is going on in the lives of others alerts us to needs that we may be able to take care of. Life is as rewarding as we allow it to be by maintaining a constant awareness of others who travel the same road. Jesus chose to fix his attention on others, not himself.
There is a story about a person who always played nothing but one note on his violin. When asked about that rather strange custom he said, “I’ve found my note, others are still looking.” The application is that by concentrating on how Jesus lived (rather than on what he taught) we seem always to end up noticing his concern for others. That was his “note” and the more we hear it the more important it becomes. It seems true that Christ-like living is, in a rather large sense, giving attention to how we can help others in their journey through life.