AMONG the sayings of Christ as reLorded by Mark is one, not so frequently explored, the full significance of which I find startling' in the extreme.
Christ was sitting in the Temple watching people putting money in the treasury, when, among the many rich, an old woman came up and put in just one penny. He called his disciples and, indicating that he had something of importance to tell them, said, This poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury: for they have all put in from money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.'
This was not a parable, nor a saying that has a different meaning when taken out of context: it was an unequivocal assertion clearly intended to be taken literally.
What are we to make of it? We can, of course, deny that Christ knew what he was talking about. but those who accept his authority are forced to think about its implications.
What we are being told is that in God's sight. and therefore in actual fact. the value of a gift is not in the size of the gift itself, but in what it has cost the giver.
We would readily agree that the more personal merit attaches to the one who in his giving has made the greater sacrifice, but to suggest that the penny of the widow is greater in actual value than the £10,000 of the millionaire is another matter altogether. Yet this is what we are being told, Perhaps the solution will be simpler if we move away from the sore question of money. Suppose instead of the penny we look at some of those handicapped who have so little in terms of opportunity and yet who achieve so much and make such an impact on the lives of those around them.
There is the remarkable example of Hilary Pole, MBE. who in her late teens became paralysed to the point where her only movement was in the big toe of her right foot. She was able to hear. but could not see, she could not breathe, she could not eat, nor move a single part of her body except that one big toe.
Others might well have given up. but she was so determined to live, so utterly determined to put her life to some good use, that a specially designed electronic 'possum' was made for her. activated by a microswitch attached to her right foot. by means of which she could type.
Being now able to corn
municate, she spends the rest of her life helping disabled people with advice and encouragement. organising appeals to buy equipment for those who cannot afford it, and making life more meaningful for those who come to see her. Now that we are confronted with people rather than hard cash, our perspective changes. Our imagination begins to be fired by the way that somebody like Hilary is able to make so much out of so little, and we are less concerned with adding up what she achieved in absolute terms.
If we were asked who we thought had achieved the most. someone in politics or Hilary Pole, we might xvell hesitate a moment before answering.
What has happened is that the personal effort spills over into the achievement so that we have started to take into account the hidden, inner reality as well as the external. tangible result. We arc on our way to equating achievement with the use to which a person has put his opportunities and his resources. Some of us at one end of the scale, contribute only out of what we have to spare, some, at the other end, whether out of their plenty or their little, give all that they have, even what they need to live on.
As I reflect on the years I have so far spent among disabled people, I see them as men and women who are in the forefront of our common struggle, just as in a different way were those among whom I served during the war.
l find unique the example they set of how to rise above adversity, of how to forget what might have been and concentrate on making the most of what is left. I find we need that example if we are to stop taking so much for granted, our good health and our many other blessings, and if we are to stop taking so seriously the little setbacks and the minor irritations of daily life.
We need a vision, a dream.
The vision should be the oneness, the essential and organic solidarity of the human family. The dream, that we each in our own way make our personal contribution towards building unity and peace among us, The only question is how? We tend to have confused ideas about peace. We talk about it, sing about it, demonstrate about it, but do we really think about it?
Peace is not just the absence of war or armed confrontation. Neither can a country living under a tyrannical and brutal regime be said to be living in peace.
Peace is the effect, or consequence, of justice, just as conversely it is injustice — if under injustice we also include aggression against a sovereign state that is the cause of war.
We move towards peace proportionately as we succeed in removing injustice, particularly the injustice of mass starvation. and deprivation. Once we understand this, we have a clear target for which to aim. Whoever and wherever we may he. all of us can participate to some extent.
It is imperative that we recognise that peace through justice is the concern of us all. the concern of each individual person. each community, each political group, each nation. We must summon the collective will and the sense of urgency to face the task that confronts us and not rest until we have done all we can to complete it.
We will find that it is in going out to help someone whose need is greater than ours that we solve our own problems and become fulfilled as a person more fully the unique masterpiece that God wills us ultimately to he.