Did you do what you could?
Updated: Mar 16
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."
Did you do what you could?
I had a young brother come to me, crestfallen after an exam. “What happened, brother?” “I failed the exam?” “Really? What makes you say that? What happened?” “I thought I had studied well. I knew what the professor had talked about in class. I had read most of the readings. But the exam seemed to be centered mostly on things that were in the readings that I never looked at.” “Hmm, that sounds pretty tough. Did you do what you could?” “Yes!” “Really?”
Sometimes, we are extremely benevolent with ourselves. We rate our effort pretty high. In psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect speaks to the phenomenon of illusory superiority. Most of us think we are better than we actually are. Somehow, we all think we are “above average,” even though it is impossible for more than 49% of the population.
In life, we just have to give our all. We have to do what we can. Often, that is all that is asked of us. We can be paralyzed by worrying about things that are beyond our control. We work ourselves into a frenzy about situations we can do nothing about. But in the meantime, we leave many things that are within our reach on the wayside.
“Did you do what you could?” With the brother, we went over some possible strategies that might have worked better. Rather than assume the professor would only test on what he mentioned in class, it is good to think that the assigned readings could also come into play. It sounds obvious, but it is a rookie mistake I have seen committed by more than a few budding university students.
Mother Teresa was a great example of focusing on the possible. Seeing so much suffering in the world, one reporter confronted her, saying what she was doing could not possibly effect much of a change in the world. She answered that she was not saving the world; she was merely saving the person in front of her at that moment. “Did you do what you could?” Mother Teresa could surely answer yes.
That is the beauty of today’s story in the Gospel. The widow’s mite is a testimony to somebody who did what she could. She was in a precarious economic situation. As a widow, she had very few guarantees in life. Many of us could turn into hoarders. We might find it hard to be generous when we are worrying about our own very sustenance. But for this widow, it was not so. She gave everything that she had. Her gesture moved Jesus to the extent that he pointed it out to his followers. Rather than pointing out those who were fulfilling the Law, or great preachers or great social workers, he pointed out the example of someone who was giving everything that was in her power to give. This is what Jesus expects of his followers as well.
Some takeaways from today’s Gospel are:
1. Give your best. Nobody can reasonably ask you for anything more than that.
2. Don’t be content with a substandard definition of your best effort. It can be a cop-out to say “I did my best” when we really know deep down that there was a lot more that we could do.
3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t be afraid to make little increments of progress. The little good you can do today is better than the great imaginary good that you might be able to accomplish in the future. Help your heart to grow in goodness, by doing good things every day.
We all have time, treasure, and talent. Take stock of what you have in your inventory of time, treasure, and talent and see if you are being generous with God. Make a resolution to give some of your time, treasure, and/or talent this week for the good of those around you.