“ This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.”
Today’s readings from the Old and the New Testaments teach us about the wisdom hidden in small things and humble actions. There is a tendency in every one to invest in a very calculative way in terms of returns. This is the utilitarian philosophy that teaches to use people and things in terms of what we can get out of others. It is a very selfish attitude and unfortunately that is the tone of the day, but contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus.
The story of the poor widow described in the Book of Kings is also inspiring. Elijah was escaping from the powerful and rich king of Israel, who was persecuting him, and now here he is in a pagan country by God’s direct order. Elijah tells the widow that God of Israel will not let her flour and oil run out. The widow of Zarepthath trusted in God, listening to Prophet Elijah’s words. She baked bread for the Prophet with the handful of flour intended for her last meal with her son at the verge of starvation death. Because of her kindness and generosity to the hungry Prophet, God did not let her jar of flour and jug of oil go empty. They were always supplying miraculously until the season of drought was over.
In the gospel Jesus compared the attitude of the scribes with that of the poor widow, which was bound to provoke controversy. Some people perform acts of worship in the hope of gaining privilege or advantage in the community. This poor woman gave to God all she had to live on. They give in the hope of receiving. She simply gives, and gives totally. They expect to receive more than they give. She places everything she has in God’s hands. Jesus comments to his disciples on both, and proposes the anonymous widow to them as a model for their imitation.
Jesus wanted to teach the people a lesson on the miserly behavior of the scribes, but he could not overlook the detached attitude of the widow. Those who think they need God to give them status in the sight of others, who honor God in order to be honored by others, who seek God because they want others to seek them, do not deserve God. God cannot be made a pretext for accumulating honor and privilege, but the temptation is always there, especially among those who honor God most. We lose the respect we owe him when we respect him only to win the respect of others, when secretly we want to obtain for ourselves the honor we give to God. In our relationship with God, we need to be more sincere, because this is the only way we can be sure we will not become like the scribes whom Jesus criticized.
The message contained in the readings today challenges us to examine our generosity towards God and our attitude towards the poor. Usually our admiration goes to who people in the limelight of name and fame. We ourselves desire to be like them. Jesus would remind us that we have lost the proper perspective to look at reality and its genuine values. From the view point of Jesus the human values of selfless love, kindness and generosity are found among the poor and the marginalized of society who utterly depend on God and his provisions.
The story of the widow is only the culmination in a series of people in the Gospels who abandon their false securities in the presence of God:
• The Magi open their treasures and humbly prostrate before the baby in whom they have seen the presence of God (Mt. 2:1-11);
• The disciples when called by Jesus leave their boats, hired men and even their father and follow Jesus (Mk. 1:20, also Mt. 4:22);
• When Mathew the tax collector encounters Jesus he is ready to leave his table and follow Jesus (Lk. 5:27-28);
• Zacchaeus is willing to give half of his property to the poor (Lk. 19:9);
• Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, leaves his upper garment and comes to Jesus in a symbolic nakedness (Mk 10:50); and,
• The Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus leaves her empty water jar at the feet of Jesus in a symbolic abandonment of her past (Jn. 4:28).
A question that we can all ask ourselves then is: what is it that I am still holding on to – that prevents me from totally surrendering myself to God?
Luke 6, 35-38 says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not you will not be condemned; give and it will be given back to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
We need to accept Christ’s criteria of judging people: We often judge people by what they possess. We give weight to their position in society, to their educational qualifications, or to their celebrity status. But Jesus measures us in a totally different way – on the basis of our inner motives and the intentions hidden behind our actions. He evaluates us on the basis of the sacrifices we make for others and on the degree of our surrender to His holy will. The offering God wants from us is not our material possessions, but our hearts and lives. What is hardest to give is ourselves in love and concern, because that gift costs us more than reaching for our purses. Let us, like the poor widow, find the courage to share the wealth and talents we hold. Let us stop dribbling out our stores of love, selflessness, sacrifice, and compassion and dare to pour out our whole heart, our whole being, our “whole life” into the love-starved coffers of this world.
The Eucharist gives us the perfect model of self-gift in love. It should continually inspire us to live our daily lives with trust in God and commitment in service to our fellow human beings.