THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018
Readings: 1st- 1 Kgs. 17:10-16; 2nd- Heb. 9:24-28; Gospel- Mk. 12:38-44
THE WIDOW’S MITE VERSUS OUR HUMAN MIGHT (different spelling)
The readings of today furnish us with images of two widows in the Bible- the widow of Zarephath in the Old Testament and the widow of the gospel. Both widows highlight some aspects of our human and societal living: total reliance on God and recognition of those at the margins.
Elijah, the prophet, visits the widow of Zarephath. Zarephath is an idolatrous, economically prosperous city which at the time was experiencing famine as a result of drought. This widow depicts almost all the impossibilities of human existence and livelihood. She has just little to live on. There’s famine in the land. Elijah requests for something to eat. The woman is willing to give him something, yet worries about her future because she has nothing to offer. To prove herself, she swears using Elijah’s God: “As the Lord, your God lives, I have nothing baked, there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug” (1 Kgs. 17:12). What’s this widow’s plan? Practically nothing, just wait for death. After eating their last reserve, they die of hunger. This woman is facing an extreme situation in the human sense. She’s living on the margins of the society. Elijah is aware of her situation (Read 1Kgs. 17:1-9). He provides hope for her with the words, “Do not be afraid.” Still the widow gives her last despite her apparent hopeless situation. The result is this: her jar of flour does not go empty; her jar of oil does not run dry.
In the gospel, we see a similar situation. Jesus compares two classes of individuals in the society: the rich Scribes who go around in long robes and the poor widow. The rich show off in the market places. They take reserved seats at the synagogues and at banquets. They take advantage of the poor like widows and even pretend to offer prayers for them. They give their might. Then you have the poor persons represented by the widow who gives her mite. Why does Jesus sit down purposely to count the individuals who donate to the temple? We are not sure why he does that but we do know that Jesus is calling out the rich people in their attitude to display wealth and intimidate the poor.
The major question here is, what is different between the poor widow’s offering and the rich people’s donations to the treasury? One might say that Jesus has always been biased against the rich in a general sense? The answer to that question is given in Jesus’ remark to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mk. 12:43-44). The big, rich donors donate from their might while the widow donate her mite, her livelihood. She empties herself.
In the first place, it is ironic that the widow gives only “two small coins worth a few cents.” What difference does that make compared to the big donations that the rich are making? Isn’t that a reasonable question to ask? The disciples will also be wondering how two small coins make more impact than the big donations that are tangible. Jesus teaches us to notice the very insignificant things that the poor do. The immediate human reaction is to appreciate the big, to acknowledge the wealthy. The human reaction is to identify big donations. God identifies the small things done from a pure heart.
Second, the mind that gives is important. The rich who donate still have fortunes left. They donate out of their surplus probably with little impact on their wealth. The widow donates sacrificially, gives of herself. Her donation is about commitment.
Third, the widow’s mite is an offering in faith. Like the widow of Zarephath, this widow gives with absolute dependence and trust in God. She’s not sure of what happens after her offering, yet she believes that something positive will happen. That’s faith. The rich people give to show off, to be noticed admired by the treasury keepers. They give to demonstrate their wealth. The widow gives to express generous support for God’s work. She depicts faith in God.
The widow’s offering today, offers us some lessons. We need to give not minding who’s watching. Sometimes we’re not acknowledged. That’s not important as to our genuine offering from the heart. The widow of Zarephath and her offering to Elijah reminds us that sometimes we might be entertaining angels without knowing. Remember Abraham’s case with the three visitors in the Old Testament (Gen. 18:1-15). Abraham gives to those people without knowing they’re angels from God. The widow of Zarephath gives to Elijah without knowing he’s a prophet sent by God. The word angel means messenger. Elijah is also an angel in that sense. Angels move in the form of human beings. Sometimes we entertain them without knowing. Giving generously attracts blessings from God. Let us be generous to those we meet. They may be the angels we entertain.
The widow of the gospel teaches us to give of ourselves. No strings attached. It is not about might but about mite, not about what is left but about what is given. It is about the heart that gives. In the US, for example, most people give because they expect tax deduction. That’s the attitude of the rich. Tax deductions get us payback from the government. It’s reasonable to get back deductions but the implication is that such donations become investment in a sense. The rich people who give to the treasury had such business mindset. They give for payback purposes. The widow gives without any human expectation. We have to be sacrificial in our donations. We have to donate in faith.
Maybe the guys here need also to reflect on why women are presented as the standard of generosity as depicted in today’s readings. My thought is that it shows us the difference between religion in the head and religion in the heart. Most times, men rationalize faith while women emotionalize it. Whereas it is good to rationalize, it is more rewarding to be available for God without counting gains. In the case of donation towards God’s project, we need emotions. The payback comes from God. Elijah says, “For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” That is faith, trust, total dependence on God’s ability to replenish the purse that gives. It transcends human reason which follows logic. The widow would have thought, “I would lack afterwards.” But God provides not in surplus. God appreciates our sacrifices not our display of wealth or power.