March 16, 2016 // Local
A Way of Life: The poor widow — Christian steward
By Harry Verhiley, Secretary for Stewardship and Development.
The short story of the widow’s mite is not a parable but a real-life occurrence, recorded in the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke. Jesus recently entered Jerusalem and had, once again, cleansed the temple of the moneychangers. He is now sitting opposite the temple treasury. “Opposite” or “across from” the treasury describes a position other than the donor’s place. He is watching what people contribute to the temple, and from this vantage point, we can appreciate that Jesus is observing what God the Father is observing. We can even go so far as to say that His position would be one of judgment.
He watched “how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.” (Mk 12:41). And then, a widow “put in two small coins worth a few cents.” (Mk 12:42). Calling His disciples over He explained that the rich gave merely from their abundance, in other words they will not miss what they have given. Their gifts will not change their lifestyle, diets, spending habits. In fact, nothing in their lives will be affected by their giving of “large sums.”
The temple treasury was constructed with a series of 13 horns, situated in the “Court of the Women.” A treasury horn would funnel coins into the large treasury box. It is said that some would blow a horn to draw the attention of others as they gave. This is why Jesus previously warned: “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you.” (Mt 6:2). Coins tossed into a horn, landing in a box of coins would cause noise and a lot of coins would be even louder and noticed by others. A most generous donor noticed by others, no doubt, could cause one to be proud of one’s own generosity. Perhaps the rich might even think that God considers their donation to be generous, since, of course, they gave “large sums.” And in comparing their offerings to others, they might even conclude some evidence about their own self worth. But then, the poor widow tossed in two small coins — and no one noticed, except for Jesus.
The widow’s offering became the point of the story. Jesus’ instruction is not based on what others see and think, or even what the donor thinks about themself, but rather, on God’s viewpoint. Our giving is a matter associated with our relationship with God. Even the impact of the gift is not as important; keep in mind that the funds collected were used for the refurbishment of the temple that would be destroyed in less than 40 years. This teaching is given as the last instruction before Jesus warns of the end times and the destruction of that temple.
This poor widow is following Jesus’s example of self-surrender and giving God all she had because she wanted to draw closer to God. Could it be that she had heard Jesus say something about taking up her cross and following, or about losing her life in order to gain it. Regardless, she understood sacrifice. Jesus notes: “All the others contributed out of their surplus but out of her poverty she has given up everything she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mk 12:44). The contrast between the rich donors and the widow is immense.
The widow is a radical example of a Christian steward, because at the core of Christian stewardship there is a radical sense of abandonment to God’s will. This is a matter of detachment from those things that we think are more important than our relationship with God. Stewardship is a way of life in which we ask ourselves, “what is God asking to do through me?” The widow believed that God was asking her to give all that she had, and she acted according to her belief.
Can you see how this teaching goes far beyond a monetary measurement of giving? This widow expressed to God that she desires to be one with God, even if her gift meant that she no longer had the means to go on living. All of her substance became an expression of love for God. Is this what Jesus was trying to convey to his disciples upon calling them over and pointing her out? This is holy week and Jesus knew what sacrifice He was about to offer for His love of God the Father and all of humanity. Can you see Christ in the poor widow? What do you think happened to her? Do you think God let her die in her want? How should we respond to Jesus’ instruction on the poor widow’s generosity? Can Christ be seen in our sacrificial giving and is it an expression of love?
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