From the Gospel according to Luke:
Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV) – June 20, 2013.)
Yesterday, the news services and Facebook were buzzing with the news of the death of James Gandolfini. Mr. Gandolfini, who was famous for playing the role of Tony Soprano in an HBO series The Sopranos, suffered a heart attack at the age of 51. The day before, there was a similar (though smaller) buzz about the death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings, aged 33, in an automobile accident.
Last week, a member of my congregation died at the age of 80 after years of crippling illness. Several weeks of acute respiratory distress came to an end when his family made the always difficult decision to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment. Except for an obituary in the local papers and a notice on our parish’s Facebook page, his death received no press coverage and no social media mention.
It seems to me this morning that the contrast Jesus draws between the offering of the poor widow and the donations of the wealthy applies as well to the differences in how the world marks the passing of everyday folk compared to its notice of the deaths of celebrities. A man who has lived a life spent in productive work, making a small but steady contribution to the world, supporting his church, raising his children and grandchildren, quietly doing good works, has perhaps “put in more than all” of the famous actors or well-known reporters who get so much attention.
I suppose I may be biased. I knew my parishioner and I know his family. When I saw the news about Mr. Hastings, I had to do some research to find out if I know any of his work; it turns out I do – he is the journalist who broke the story about General Stanley McChrystal. When I saw the reports of Mr. Gandolfini’s death, I did not need to do so; I knew that he had played the Soprano part. But, truth be told, I’ve never seen an episode of The Sopranos and I have no idea what other roles the actor may have played. In either event, I can safely say that neither man has had as great an impact on my life and the lives of the people and community I know than my parishioner had.
I don’t mean to belittle their deaths nor the pain their passing may have caused those who love them, but I think perhaps we pay too much attention to those who claim (or are given) the name “celebrity” and not enough to the grandfathers and the poor widows around us, even in death. We should do as Jesus did in the Temple; we should take notice.
And that’s my two cents.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.
Eric, I agree with your sentiments here. But, I did watch all the seasons of The Sopranos on DVD. It was an amazing series with fabulous writing and acting. In the end, it did not glamorize the Mafia, but somewhat humanized the characters in surprising ways.
Your two cents is spot on. Well stated.