"Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?"
And Jesus looks at that young man in a way that no one else has ever looked at him: with equal measures of love and with pity. Pity has always been something he has felt for those with less money and less status than he. He is not used to seeing it on the face of those who look at him.
Jesus reminds him of the commandments. The rich young man begins to feel confident, sure of himself. He knows he has followed those. He begins to relax, as a student who knows that he has given the right answer on the test.
He answers "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus holds his gaze a moment longer. The young man feels a sense of disappointment radiating from Jesus, and is confused. He knows he's said something wrong - but what?
"You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, give your money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me."
The rich young man feels the words hit him like a blow to the gut. Sell everything? Give the money to the poor? What on earth am I lacking that could make these actions make sense? Where would I follow this teacher? Where would I live? What would I eat? How would I survive?
He turns and leaves, ashamed, angry, disappointed. Jesus watches him go.
In the distance he hears Jesus speak to the crowds again, "How hard it is for those who have wealthto enter the kingdom of God!"
His ears burn with shame. The words that Jesus spoke haunt him. "What am I missing?"
They trouble his sleep, disturb his studies, afflict him while he is working. He burns to find the answer.
He prays to God for the wisdom to know what it is that he is missing, to see clearly what he lacks so that he might pursue it. God is silent. The young man gives up on asking.
Later, he is at the temple. He spots Jesus speaking to his disciples. A poor widow comes and fishes two tiny coins out of her threadbare purse. He saw this widow begging on the steps earlier. He knows her. She has been begging on those steps for months, since the passing of her husband and only son. She takes the coins out of her purse and drops it in the offering box after kissing them, then walks away with a smile on her face.
He shakes his head. The woman didn't have to give both.
"She should have given one to God and kept the other for her needs. This is why she remains poor."
He hears Jesus speak to his disciples, The words he hears shock him.
“Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”
Shame and guilt flood him at once. This widow had the courage to give everything to God, something he could not bring himself to do. He'd judged her as being foolish for giving it all - but maybe he was the fool.
He has to know why she did this. How did this woman, who had so little, possess a courage that he did not?
He runs to find her in the crowd. He sees her sitting on the steps, begging once more. He is nervous, but determined. He produces a single silver denarius and gives it to her.
"Good woman, I beg for some of your time."
Her eyes are filled with curiosity, and she accepts the coin.
"You have bought a day's worth of my time with that coin. I am your servant."
She accepts the hand he offers and stands up. It is evident from the time it takes her that she is in some pain, but her smile never waivers. His friends all stare at him in consternation as he leads her to his home. This is simply not done. Talking to strange women, beggers at that, in public? Leading beggars to his home?
He ignores their stares. His need for the answer presses him to move forward.
When he arrives at his home, he has his servants prepare refreshments. He tells them she is a guest.
As the drinks are poured and the food is served, the servants stoop to wash her feet. She blushes like a young girl, but allows them. Her feet are, he notices, cracked and blistered. She has walked many miles in shoes that are as threadbare and worn as the purse she carried earlier.
At last everything is ready, and the young man turns to the woman.
"Why did you do it?" he asks her, the words bursting forth from his mouth like water from a dam.
She tilts her head slightly to the side and shrugs her shoulders.
He throws his hands up in the air.
"You put everything you had in that donation box. You have nothing, but you gave everything. Why did you do it?"
She nods her head and begins to speak.
"I was sitting on those steps yesterday all day long. All that I managed to collect was those two mites. My heart was grieved. My rent is due and my pantry is bare. This morning, when I woke, I heard God ask me to take those two coins - the only coins I had - and give them back to Him. So, I did."
The young man heard the echo of earlier words, "Go, sell all that you have, and give it to the poor."
"Truly, you are a woman of courage. How did you do it? How did you find it so easy to let go of what you had? What if no more had come your way? What if you had lost everything?"
A gentle smile stretches across the wrinkled face.
"Everything I have, I have because the Lord has provided it to me. It is not truly mine, I am just its caregiver. If He asks me to return it, and decides to give me nothing else, that is His right."
The young man stares at her, astonished. "But you could die!"
"I could. In fact, I will. One day, we will all die. Better that I should die doing as the Lord asks of me, than to die with two mites in my hand having grieved the Lord."
The young man sits back in his chair and looks at all the things around him.
"He said that I was lacking only one thing. I see now what it is. I lack courage."
The widow reaches out a hand to the young man and pats it gently.
"It took courage to approach a beggar woman, to pass by your friends with her in a public place, and to bring her into your home seeking her advice. You do not lack for courage."
The young man looks into her eyes.
"Then what am I missing? What is it that keeps me from having the courage to do what you did? To sell it all and give everything to the poor?"
She sips her drink for a moment, and her eyes soften.
"You follow the Lord, but you don't know Him. You have no confidence in His love for you, and that's why you are letting your fear stop you from doing what you have been called to do."
She holds up the single silver Denarius he gave her earlier.
"I gave the Lord two mites. He gave me this silver Denarius in return. The Lord has repaid me, and he has given me a fine meal in a fine house. He has given me an even greater gift: my dignity. Most people pass me by without ever stopping to speak to me. They drop coins at my feet sometimes, but they do not see me. You have honored me by seeking me out, asking my advice, and truly valuing it. That's worth far more than a day's wages to me."
The young man's mouth opens, and then shuts quickly. Tears form at the corners of his eyes. He embraces the widow.
"You are worth more than all the Denarius I have in my treasury. I have searched for months for the answer, trying to find what I was missing. I have spoken to Rabbi's, to scribes, to Pharisees, to men of great renowned and none of them could tell me. But you - you have given me the wisdom to see what i was lacking, and now I know what I must do. I must sell you everything I own."
The widow's eyes widened and she stared at the young man.
"All I have is the single Denarius you gave me this morning."
He smiled broadly and laughed.
"It will be enough. You have given me a lifetime's worth of wisdom for the price of that Denarius, and I will be forever in your debt. I will sell everything to you, give the Denarius to the poor, and go follow Him if He will still have me."