“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…” (Mk 12:43-44)
Jesus instructs us in today’s Gospel reading that our church offerings are to be a sacrifice. He gives us the example of the poor widow who makes an offering to the temple not out of her “surplus” but from what little she has to manage her own domestic affairs. This does not mean that the widow gave to the temple, say, that which she owed her landlord for rent, but perhaps it was an amount that would have helped her purchase a new broom, a new bowl, or even a hearty breakfast. It was certainly all she had, for Jesus accounts it as her “livelihood”.
What Jesus does not tell us is how the woman became a poor widow. Was she already poor when she lost her husband, or was she at one time a rich widow? If we take the latter case as our example then we would surmise that she fell on hard times or else perhaps because of her great charity in serving the kingdom of God she became poor deliberately through her generous giving. This latter conclusion is not so remote in that she has now reached a point of saintliness offering even the little that she has to God.
Underlying this gospel story is the fact that Jesus is God. As God He is exercising here His divine omniscience, for how else could He know that “all” those making their temple offerings in His presence were not making a sacrifice by doing so. We might like to think that at least one other person there gave from his need; however Jesus knew that all the other contributors that day were holding back; that is, holding back for themselves what they had generously received from His Father.
Yet, let us not mistake God for some great accountant or bean counter in the sky. Jesus is not so fretful about percentages. It is possible that while one of the worshipers gave only out of his surplus to the temple that day, yesterday he gave out of his savings to a poor widow. What is essential to understand here is that Jesus wants us to become diligent in giving kindly to God whenever the opportunity arises, and that one can never really be said to be giving to God if instead of giving from what he has, he gives only from what he has left over.
For this 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time we place on our bulletin cover a work by the Dutch painter Pieter de Hooch, entitled Woman Weighing Gold Coins (1664). De Hooch was part of the Dutch golden-age and the “window light” genre which greatly influenced another Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer (compare this work to Vermeer’s Milkmaid). Here our woman is weighing her gold coins so as to estimate their value and her savings. She is richly dressed surrounded by lush tapestry and ornate furniture. However, if she is our widow, we find her here only starting out on her sanctification as she will eventually come to prefer storing up treasure in heaven (Mt 6:19-20).
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services