1 Kings 17:10-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
In today’s readings we encounter two widows who though among the poorest of the poor, gave generously all they had to live on. We don’t know what became of them; but they had great trust to be able to share despite an uncertain future. Sometimes, like the widow of Zerephtha, we may feel we have little personal strength or resources to share. But the Prophet reassures her and tells her not to be afraid and nothing will go wrong with her. In the same way God will certainly reward our giving with unstinting bounty. In the Gospel Jesus praised the poor widow who dropped two small coins in the treasury box of the Temple because she gave all she had. God loves a cheerful giver, the one who is willing to part with things without any hesitation. Compassion and care for others surely prompt our own giving. Perhaps like the scribes our giving may sometimes be tinged with a need for recognition or affirmation. Contributing to charitable works is important, but we can also be generous in sharing ourselves in a simple way. We reach out to those in need and giving the little we can share with others.
When we consider the three readings of today, all the three of them seem to talk about widows or on the theme of sacrifice. In the First Reading, there is the widow who shared the last of her food with Elijah. In the Gospel, there is the poor widow who gave all that she had to live on. In the Second Reading, although the word ‘widow’ is not used, we perceive that the Holy Catholic Church that Jesus was instituting on earth during His ministry, it was “widowed” or empty when He offered Himself as a sacrifice to remove sin from the world. Widow is one who has lost her husband but at the same time one who is orphaned and isolated. In all three cases, a great sacrifice was made. In the First Reading, the widow who fed Elijah, she sacrificed all what she had for herself and her son. In the Second Reading, Jesus sacrificed Himself, He who was the only Begotten Son of God and in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily. In the Gospel Reading, the widow sacrificed her last two small copper coins. In all three cases, they all trusted in God the Father. The widow who fed Elijah trusted in the Lord God of Israel to provide her future needs so she and her son would not die of starvation. Jesus trusted in God the Father to raise Him from the dead. The poor widow who gave her last coins trusted in Yahweh to provide for her future needs.
The First Reading taken from the First Book of Kings narrates a touching story of a widow during the time of Israel’s famine and she places her trust in God and the prophet. She has her son who depends on her and trusts her. Reduced to absolute penury she is on her way to get firewood to cook a last meal for them both from a little meal and oil, that entire she has left. She sees nothing but death before them. Then Elijah, the prophet, himself hungry, comes and asks her for water and bread. When she tells him her situation, he still asks her to make a small scone for him. In a generous act of sharing, she does so and she is rewarded by their being enough for all three of them and the jar of meal and the jug of oil does not empty until the drought is over. The message from the first reading for us is very clear that whenever we give to the other generously we get back more than we give. It tells us of the power of God who takes care of the weakest and those who place their trust in him.
Today’s Second Reading tells us that Jesus died once for all time and for all people when He made His perfect sacrifice to remove sin. His Divine Sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Holy Cross put an end to the first age, the days of the Old Testament and the Covenant of the Law. His Divine Sacrifice as the Lamb of God opened the new and last age in which we now belong, the days of the New Testament and the New Covenant of grace. When Jesus returns at the end of this last age, it will not be to deal with sin by sacrificing Himself again, but to judge the living and the dead. It will be to collect the saints who have persevered in their living faith and who are awaiting for the arrival of the Lord Jesus. In his sacrifice Jesus sheds his blood for the salvation of the world. When Jesus comes in his glory he will bring salvation to all those who wait for him that they may live fully in him. The living is those who shine as lights in the world, those who shine in love towards God and their brothers and sisters.
The gospel of today places before us the question, who really serves God? This question seems to emerge from the ostentatious public behavior of some Scribes and other learned persons and the contrast between the amount of money given to Temple treasury by the rich people and a poor widow. Scribes and Pharisees are presented today as very image-conscious. It was more important to be seen and thought of as good and holy than in being really so. “They like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market square, to take the front seats in the synagogue and the places of honour at banquets.” In fact, scribes, as interpreters of the Law, were deeply respected for their great learning. They wore long white robes as a sign of their devotion to the law and people looked at them with awe. Jesus does not condemn all scribes but those who lived a life of hypocrisy. He accuses the scribes of being rapacious exploiters “who swallow the property of widows” while making an outward show of piety. Power and position are all too frequently linked with material greed and corruption. What Jesus tells us today is that discipleship must be characterized by authenticity. It is not shown through external behavior but rather with the interior disposition.
The second part of the Gospel shows a very different picture. In a way, it is a completely different scenario and yet there are connections. The linking word between the two is “widow”. There is a striking contrast between the poor widow described in the second part of today’s Gospel and the Scribes and Pharisees in the first part. The simple piety of this woman of no social standing is contrasted with the arrogance and social ambitions of some so-called religious leaders. She is also contrasted with the rich donors offering a large amount of money they can easily afford and the tiny amount given by her. It is doubtful that what they offered would not really affect their standard of living. The point that is made by Jesus is that the value of a gift is not necessarily assessed by its quantity. What is important is the heart of the giver which is self sacrificing. The widow gives out of her poverty and not out of her wealth.
An interesting point we ought to note is that the treasury was actually called a trumpet. This is because it was constructed in the form of a trumpet as if to blow the horn. When the coins were dropped it made a loud noise and all came to know of the contribution a person had made to the Temple. Perhaps the small two coins dropped by the widow did not make any noise but it did not escape the attention of Jesus and he appreciates this great gesture. The poor widow may not even have heard the praises of Jesus and certainly she would receive the reward from God. This poor woman, in a daring act of trust in God’s providence, put into the treasury everything she had — and it was next to nothing. She had two small coins. She put in both. We must remember that in the Kingdom of Jesus everyone counts. At the same time to be counted we must go on changing our ways and surrender ourselves to him and trust in his providence.
God always rewards those who persevere in their living faith. No one goes by unnoticed. If a person is proud, he will be noticed; if he is humble, he will also be noticed. If a person is humble like the poor widow whose name no one knows, God will notice him and raise him and reward him according to his sacrifice. We are reminded of Mother Teresa coming to visit a school in Hong Kong. Over her habit she wore an old grey cardigan and on her feet an ageing pair of leather sandals. A couple of weeks later she was back in India receiving the Templeton Award from Queen Elizabeth of England. Photographs showed her shaking hands with the queen and wearing the same cardigan and the same sandals. The queen did not seem to mind or probably even notice. That was the humility of the great saint. The widow who fed Elijah, she knew the will of God. The poor widow who gave her last two coins, she knew the will of God. The Lord Jesus, when He sacrificed Himself on the Holy Cross for our sins, He knew the will of God. All three, they embraced a spiritual mind and did what was good, acceptable and perfect in the eyes of God.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome