Several years ago on one of my trips to Siberia I taught the Old Testament to prospective pastors. The gratitude and responsiveness of my students were very rewarding, but my most affecting experience occurred outside of class.
After church one Sunday I had lunch with a refugee family from Kyrgystan. The couple have five children, ten years old and younger. I think that if the wife had not looked so worn, she would have been a handsome woman. These people have virtually nothing. The man picked us up in a car that had to stop three times in twenty minutes for the radiator to be filled. He cannot get a regular job because he has no working papers.
His wife had cooked a pot of pasta. There was a little sauce on it, and I think I found two tiny specks of meat. Our hostess gave me a big bowl of pasta. A student with me received a little less, and my translator had about half as much. The parents stood and watched us eat, but did not eat themselves. I hope they and the children had something earlier, but I am not sure. The children were in another room, so I only saw a two-year old boy for a few minutes. He held his hand up for me to shake, but after a while he began to cry and was removed.
After the pasta, the hostess poured us some tea and put two kinds of homemade jam on the table. I had already told the hostess how full I was because I wanted her to know that the lunch was more than adequate. Now I praised her jam. It was very good. When we left, the lady presented me with a liter jar of homemade strawberry jam. A few days later, I sent them a small gift bag provided by a family in my church. The bag contained some toothpaste, a matchbox car, some granola bars and a few other odds and ends. I wondered if that car was the only toy the children had to share. Afterwards, their pastor told me with evident emotion that they were very grateful.
To me this jar of jam represented the life of that poor woman's family. I felt guilty, as if I had personally taken food out of the mouths of her children. I wanted to dump the contents of my wallet on the table, but that would only have shamed her and her husband. She gave away the little she had, but she did not simply give it to a strange preacher from a distant land. She gave it to God.
One day as Jesus sat in the temple, He "began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on'" (Mark 12:41-44).
I have never in my life received a gift as great and as precious as the gift of this Kyrgystani woman. It humbles me because I have never given so much to anyone either, not even to God. Her gift teaches me to be thankful, not for my comparative wealth, but for the lesson that God humbles the rich through the poor. I, as an American, am by that very fact one of the rich people of the world, and I certainly need to be brought down.
No! I must take back what I have just written. I have received a greater gift than that jar of jam, but the greater gift came from an even deeper poverty. On the first Christmas, the Son of God left the glories of Heaven for the pigsty of Earth. He left the adoration of angels to be stigmatized as an illegitimate son of Mary. He left eternal blessedness to bear God's crushing curse on our sin.
The Bible says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Because He became poor, the now risen Christ is able to offer you the greatest gift of all, eternal life. Will you humble yourself and receive Christ that you may be rich?