In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “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.”
Never let it be said that Jesus didn’t recognize false faith when He saw it. There have ever been those among the community of believers whose primary concern was recognition of their status in the parish or the diocese, even before there were parishes and dioceses! While it may be true that the clergy are more susceptible to these temptations, with their fancy clerical vestments and central role in the worship and leadership of the people of God, let’s not pretend that the lay folk don’t sometimes suffer the same. Let’s face it, people like to be recognized, and important people like to be recognized for how important they are. Unfortunately, this can lead to more than just mostly humorous competition for who has the biggest hat or the most colorful chasuble. It can ruin reputations, damage hearts, and even cause scandal when those in positions of influence use their positions to deflate others they see as a threat to their perceived importance.
Jesus, clearly, is much more impressed with those who unassumingly give what they have, and give out of their poverty rather than out of their abundance. This is a temptation I face all too often. When we’re short of money between paychecks, either because of unforeseen expenses or because of poor spending habits, it’s easy to add a little reserve to the budget by just not contributing to the parish that week. Of course, this is exactly the wrong attitude. We don’t support the work of the Church only when we have extra money. Our support of the Church is part of our responsibility as Christians and ought to be built into our budget. Even when times are tight, it is an act of faith in God’s care and providence to continue to support the work of the Church. Too often, I have lacked that faith.
The poor widow had great faith. I don’t think Jesus is begrudging the contributions of the wealthy in this Gospel passage. Rather, he is comparing their relatively comfortable giving with the brutal giving of the poor widow. I say “brutal” because it seems to be the right word. The widow is giving all she has. She has little prospect of getting more. How will she meet her own needs? As such, she is manifesting a level of faith far above those who give out of their surplus. She has no surplus. Still, she gives. Why? Because she has faith in God’s providence. That can be the only answer. The wealthy do not give all they have. Yes, what they give is substantial. In practical terms, it is substantially more than the widow gives. Yet, what does their giving say about their faith? It says that they are willing to support God’s work, but perhaps only to a point — that point being where their own comfort becomes threatened.
When I read this Gospel, I think of the papal motto of Pope St. John Paul the Great: Totus Tuus — “Totally Yours.” This motto expressed John Paul’s great devotion to the Blessed Mother. He gave his all to her and was convinced that she protected him during his life, from the ravages of the Nazi takeover and then Communist control of Poland, and when an assassin’s bullet ripped through his mid-section on May 13, 1981, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. A year later, on May 13, 1982, John Paul visited Fatima to thank the Blessed Mother for her protection. In the crown he placed on the head of her statue was the bullet the surgeons had recovered from his body.
This should be our response to the Blessed Mother, and to the Savior Who entered the world through her. Totally yours! The widow in the Gospel expressed her giving herself totally to God by giving all she had. We would do well to follow her example, to find a way to express our faith in giving ourselves totally to God.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.