What is More Pleasing to God?
Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year. Fr Allan White contrasts the security of the rich with the vulnerability of the poor widow, to show how she is an icon of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
St Mark tells us Jesus was in the Temple watching people. The poor widow who came to make her gift to the Temple treasury did not know she was being watched. This widow does nothing for show, her generosity is spontaneous. Her kind of generosity is only possible after a lifetime of giving, after decades of small deeds of charity, small acts of fidelity, of obedience and self-renunciation. How does Jesus know how much people are putting in to the treasury? The treasury was not in fact a chest or a box; it was a row of trumpet shaped metal containers into which you flung your money. It would make a noise as it went down. The rich are making a big splash because they are conspicuously flinging in large sums so that everybody can hear and be aware of what they are giving. The poor widow’s two coins do not make much noise. They do not attract much attention, except perhaps pity that she has so little.
St Mark gives us an interesting little detail that does not come across in the English translation. He uses a special tense of the verb to describe what the widow does. She gives once and for all. This is all she has to give. It is a decisive action. This is it. She has nothing left; she gives all. He uses another tense to describe how the rich give. Their gift is not once and for all. They can repeat their giving. There is plenty more where that came from. The widow has staked her life on this gift. These rich people do not know the end of their money. They are the kind of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. There is a contrast between the noisy rich and the quiet and discreet widow.
Jesus calls his disciples to see this. It is important that they do not miss out on this lesson. Jesus is sitting down. When St Mark tells us Jesus is seated he is reminding us that he is giving a lesson. The disciples are clearly impressed by the generosity of the rich. They are captivated by this glamour. It is easy to feel enthralled by the power that wealth brings. We can all fall victims to the charms of wealth. Rich people always have a certain kind of security because they do not have to struggle like the rest of us. They are invulnerable to the kind of needs that inevitably affect the widow. She has no one to defend her and no one to look after her. The rich do not see this vulnerability; only Jesus sees it. He tells his disciples that they are not to be impressed by this vulgar display of wealth. What is more pleasing to God the confidence of the rich or the humility of the widow? Jesus says to them that they are mistaken if they think that the rich have put in more than the widow. They may have put in more in terms of figures, but in terms of personal cost they have put in far less, for they have given out of their abundance, but she has put in her whole living. She has laid her life on the line in this gift. She has become an icon of Christ, a living image of the Saviour. What else does he do on the cross but put his whole living, his life at our disposal. He gives all that he has for us. The widow gives all that she has for God. God gives all he has, his precious Son, for us.
Readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16 | Hebrews 9:24-28 | Mark 12:38-44