The parable about the widow’s offering illustrates several important aspects of evaluation that are consistent with following Jesus.
Jesus quietly watched people as they went about their normal activity. His observations did not disrupt people, nor cause them to act in unusual ways. Useful evaluation takes place on ordinary days, not just during special events.
Jesus understood the culture. He knew the ways of the people that allowed him to understand what he was seeing. The evaluator must have relevant experience within the community’s culture to understand the significance of observations and information.
Jesus chose a life-style activity to observe, an activity that provided information about people’s central values. For the religious folk, contributions to the temple treasury were related to the degree to which they trusted in God’s commitment to provide for their own needs. The evaluation should include observations of behavior related to core values, especially those that indicate love for God and neighbor in that culture. This can be very complex, but it is essential for the community development evaluator.
Jesus related one fact to another to describe a relationship. Evaluation works with patterns or relationships, not isolated facts. Jesus said that rich people put large amounts into the treasury, while the widow put in two small coins. Jesus did not describe the exact amounts for the rich people, because the comparison was not between the amounts given by the rich people and the widow. The important comparison was between the relative amounts that the rich and the widow had left over.
Jesus knew when not to be too precise. The strength of the conclusion in this situation does not depend on knowing the exact amounts that the rich put into the treasury. Quantitative analysis can be useful, but the appropriate precision is determined by the aim of the analysis. Avoid spending time collecting and analyzing information that is too precise.
Jesus interpreted what he saw by relating the observations to significant principles, and stating his conclusion. The widow had put more into the treasury than all the others, even though the actual amount was only two small coins. And he gave the evidence to support the conclusion: The others gave only a part of their wealth, while she gave everything she had to live on. A conclusion describes more than the facts you observe; it describes what the facts mean in relationship with each other.
In this parable Jesus made no recommendation. The disciples were left to ponder his conclusion, and to decide for themselves what they should do. Recommendations have a place in evaluation, but there is also a place for encouraging users of the results of an evaluation to think through recommendations for themselves.
Lord, I resolve to have the courage and humility to reconsider my understanding of evaluation regularly as I meditate on your teachings. Amen.