Most of us are very protective of our public image, aren't we? We want others to have a good impression of us. As a society, we put great emphasis on the job, the neighborhood, the social circles in which we move. But today, Jesus tells us that those things are not important. In the Gospel , we find Jesus in the temple where He warns us to “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, have the best seats and places of honor”. Instead we are told that the poor widow who gave all that she has and lives a life of humility, is the example we should follow. We all know this text as “The Widow's Mite”. It is a familiar story which we have heard over and over again....”the widow gave everything that she had.....we should be generous like her.” This reading is often used during stewardship or tithing drives, urging us to dig deep and give till it hurts. Perhaps that is a good interpretation.... on the surface. Even though we know that Jesus does not expect us to empty our bank accounts, we are certainly called to be generous. After all, it takes money to run the business of a parish. It takes money to fund the charitable programs of the church. But I propose that there is another interpretation of today's Gospel reading which is equally important. There is something else going on here. This gospel is not simply about the treasure of money....it is about the treasure of poverty.
What am I talking about? The riches of poverty? Most of us have not really experienced poverty, have we? Sure, there are times when money is tight, but real poverty? No. This is something most of us read about in the newspaper or see in infomercials. Truthfully, we see poverty as a problem which needs to be fixed. It is on the lips of every politician these days. As a society we do have a real obligation to look at the poverty around us and alleviate its effects. But Jesus tells us today that the poverty of the widow in the gospel today is not a problem to be fixed but rather a virtue to imitate. The poor widow embodies the virtue of spiritual poverty. She doesn't need to have the long robes, the best seat in the house or even the pretense of holiness. So she does something that makes no sense, she gives everything that she has, her last two coins. Her gift is an expression of faith, trust and dependence upon God.
Like I said before, this story is not given to us so that we feel we should give everything we own. Imagine what would happen if everyone gave away all that they had to live on. All of a sudden, we would have a major crisis on our hands. We'd have to scramble to somehow take care of all of those people who now had nothing to live on. We do not have to mimic the widow's actions exactly any more than we have to die on a cross as Jesus did, in order to be Christlike. The point of the Gospel message is that we need to develop the spirit that prompted the widow to do what she did. We are called to sacrificial “living” in addition to our sacrificial “giving”. Let me repeat that we are called to “sacrificial living”. We need to live our lives with God at the center and remember that everything we have is a gift from Him. In turn, we are obliged to share these gifts with others. You know, giving comes in many forms. Sure....part of it is monetary support, but it can also be found in service to others.
Jesus sees into the hearts of people and knows their situations. He sees through the disguises that we all wear from time to time. He saw through the empty gestures of the scribes, the false pretenses and posturing. And He continues to see us clearly today. On the surface, the rich who give large gifts appear to be sincere. And many times those most fortunate are extremely generous. There is no question that we are grateful for their support. However the folks who give small amounts are important also. In fact, often they may actually be giving more. God doesn't judge the gift by its size, but its sincerity and generosity of heart. The widow in today's Gospel gave without concern for her well being. She gave from her heart and trusted in God's promises for her. This is the true discipleship to which we are called.