Vigilante Acts of Kindness: Lessons from Leptons

Earlier in the week I spoke to one of the local Rotary clubs about the work I’ve been doing in Uganda.  I talked about how small acts of kindness can make great differences.  I told the story of my friends, Becca and Gerald, who dropped by just before I left for Uganda last July and gave me a handful of bills with the simple instructions to, “find a kid in need and help them”.  I told the Rotarians how I’d used that money to buy a kid a mattress.  Of course there’s more to the story than that, but you can read it here.

I told the story of the mattress and lots of other Vigilante Kindness stories and when my talk at the Rotary meeting was finished, a kindly man approached and shook my hand.  He pressed a handful of bills into my palm.  Then he thanked me and said, “Find a kid in need and help them.  I wish it could be more.”

He slipped away before I could even catch his name.  I tucked the bills into my purse and later in my kitchen I smoothed them out and smiled at the seventeen dollars on my kitchen counter.

What a lovely gift.

Last spring a friend of mine popped by my classroom and handed me a wad of crumpled bills.  She offered up some kind words about the things I’ve been up to in Uganda and then she said, “I’m sorry it’s not more.”  I tucked her donation into my pocket and that night when I was changing into my pajamas, I took it out and counted each bill.  I couldn’t help but smile at the three dollars in my hand.

I learned a great lesson from my friend and her three dollars.  In fact her three dollars caused me to trip over my pride and do a big ole faceplant into a puddle of my own mucky ego.

If I were telling you this story in person over a cup of coffee, here’s the place where I’d lean in and whisper because I’m not proud of what I’m about to say. I can recall countless times when I’ve had the opportunity to donate to worthy causes and have been too embarrassed to find that my wallet has a lone five dollar bill.  Or one tired dollar that has been through the washing machine too many times.  Or frankly sometimes the only thing in my wallet was a quarter sandwiched in between two pennies.

And I didn’t give anything because I was embarrassed by what I thought was an inadequate, meager amount.

So I gave nothing.  Not a cent.

You tell me who was the kinder person?  Me the embarrassed person who didn’t give anything or my friend who gave three dollars?  She wins the kindness race by a landslide.

I don’t mean to get all preachy on you, but these donations carved from the hearts of my friends remind me so much of the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12.  Writer Laura Turner, who is a kindred spirit (because she, too, hates birds) lays out the story beautifully.

We enter the scene with Jesus and his disciples in the treasury, the place where religious people gathered from far and wide to make their donations to the temple. The treasury was in the inner part of the temple, and the coffers placed around the room were shaped like trumpets, each with a different purpose for contribution. According to tradition, some of the trumpets received sin-offerings of burnt pigeons and turtledoves, some for contributions for incense, and some for general, voluntary offerings.  (I kind of wish it was still encouraged to burn pigeons for sacrifice. Stupid animals.)

“Many rich people threw in large amounts.” But this story is not the story of many people. This is not the story of large amounts of money, or of someone doing something flashy and noticeable. This story is about one of the least noticeable things in the entire New Testament. There are no angels winging around the throne of God; no demons being cast out into a flock of pigs or man being lowered down from a roof to receive healing. There is this woman – this small, unnoticed, uncared-for woman who hardly counted as a person in her society. And there were two coins. 

250px-Widowsmite‘Mite’ is not the actual name for what the coin was. It was a term in use when the King James Bible was being translated in the early 17th century, and it was the equivalent of a few minutes’ work. ‘Lepton’ would have been the word used for the smallest copper coin in Israel at the time; this is the story of the widow’s leptons. And this story was probably going unnoticed for years.

We don’t know how long the widow had been going to the treasury with her two coins, but we can assume that when her husband was alive, she would have had more. Not much more, necessarily, but she would have had resources to live on. Poor and without resources or power, she came to the temple and walked among the crowd who gave a lot of money mostly to increase their sense of stature in the community.  And she came with the most meager of amounts to drop in the trumpet, and she did not draw attention to herself as she gave, but her story lives on as one of the most powerful examples of generosity and radical trust that we know.

Because Jesus saw the treasury then, and he sees it still today. Jesus knew this simple truth: How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart. This woman was a hero of our faith. This act of giving was not foolish and was not undertaken lightheartedly. She gave all that she had.

I feel incredibly, gratefully, humbly blessed to get to see the internal realities of the hearts of my friends and family as they give their two leptons to help the people I’ve come to love in Uganda.  Beloveds, I can’t tell you how deeply it moves me to watch you fold my Ugandan family into your hearts, to wrap your arms around them all the way across a vast ocean.

I meant it when I told the Rotarians that I believe small acts of kindness can make a great difference.

My friend’s three dollars was enough to buy a mosquito net.  In the kitchen after the Rotary meeting as I stared at the seventeen dollars on my counter, I wished I could tell the anonymous man that his seventeen dollars is enough money to take a sick kid to the hospital, to be seen by a doctor and to pay for antibiotics.

Dear ones, if you’re able to donate and be a part of the story unfolding before me in Uganda, I accept your generosity with love and gratitude.  But please, I’m begging you, please when you give, don’t apologize.  Don’t even for a second entertain the thought that your donation is too meager or somehow not enough.

Hear me when I say this to you.

It’s enough.  

You are enough.  

And here’s the lovely thing about small kindnesses, when I put my two leptons with your two leptons, what may have felt small in our pockets adds up to something far, far greater than four coins.

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