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But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.

(Mk 12:44)

Widows, in Jesus time and culture, have little means of support and are socially powerless and

honorless in a society emphasizing status and honor. They cannot easily remarry and are dependent to

their father, husband, or eldest son. They can even be given as part of the inheritance to the eldest son.

Although Jewish law protects them, they are nonetheless easy victims of dishonest and abusive

creditors. Moreover, they have no defender at law, therefore, they are at the mercy of dishonest judges

(this brings to mind that persistent widow and dishonest judge in one of Jesus parables). In Jewish

culture, widows have to rely on public charity. They also have to wear a particular clothing to identify

themselves. This made it easy for Jesus to recognize the poor widow among the Temple crowd.

Widows, therefore, are socially stigmatized in Jesus time. Nonetheless, Jewish society shows concern

to them by allowing them to glean the fields for food after the harvest (Deut. 24:19-21; Ruth 2), share

the sacrificial festivals, and tithes (Deut. 26:12). Besides, Israels Deuteronomic law considers widows

as disinherited and in Biblical tradition God is their protector (Deut. 14:29; Jer. 49:11; Ps. 68:5; Ps.

146:9). To neglect widows is to provoke Gods anger (Ps. 94:1-7; Job 22:9-11, 29-30; Is. 1:16-17, 21-

25). The Scriptures, then, is clear about Gods compassion for widows. Moreover, nothing could have

moved Jesus than the plight of widows. He knows well their difficulties. He has seen them in his own

mother, a widow herself. Perhaps, this is one reason why widows have special place in his ministry. Do

you remember that moment when he raised a widows son back to life? Not out of mercy for the dead

son but for the sorrowing mother who is a widow!

Contrarily, who are the scribes? They are lawyers in the modern sense of the word. They are

called teachers (rabbi) for being scholars and intellectuals in Jesus time. Jesus, in todays Gospel,

accuses them of accumulating wealth by devouring the houses of widows (v. 40a). This serious

accusation could refer to how these teachers exploit widows resources by seeking extensive tithes,

which they could set at 20-30 percent on top of the heavy land taxes imposed by the government. It
could also mean that the scribes follow the letter of the law in legal decisions rather than showing mercy

to the poor. In this case, they are worse than tax collectors. It is however an old accusation for it is

patterned after the Prophets (e.g. Is. 10:1-2) who normally link social injustice to religious hypocrisy.

Jesus siding with the economically powerless is modeled after the prophets (Is 1:17). But, are they all

bad? No! Some are actually good. Remember the scribe who asked Jesus on the greatest commandment

(see Mk 12:28-34)? Hence, Jesus did not stop the poor widow from giving her two coins knowing that

there are still good scribes left to help her out. Jesus is not condemning all scribes here. Rather he is

challenging them to act in a more just way.

What, then, is the message of the Gospel for us today?

First, the gospel teaches us about sincere generous giving. The poor widow gave her whole

livelihood as described by Jesus despite the fact that her coins are the economically least valuable in that

period. Pious people, today, will understand this as selfless act of piety, a heroic act for God, a saintly

act! But, practically, who among us would normally give up our whole livelihood? Doing so means

starving ourselves. We must know, however, that widows in Jesus time will not starve because

provisions for the poor are provided in Jewish synagogues (Acts 6:1-4). Should this understanding

therefore devalue her act? No! It remains commendable and it was Jesus, no less, who commends her.

What made her act great is her acting in good sincere faith. She did not act with pomposity like scribes.

Her act similarly reveals her trust in God a trust that sacrifices, which reflects Jesus trustful sacrifice

on the cross. She might be ignorant of how her offering is used but that does not matter as long as she is

made right in Gods eyes. She is the total opposite of the scribes who seek to gain while she gives to

gain. What did she gain? Gods approval and compassion. She is seen as the one who truly loves God.

Hence, her free act of generosity is commended. Her gift, though small, is truly sacrificial and her heroic

act of faith is like that of Jesus in His passion and death on the cross.
Second, Jesus criticizes the fact that the Temple collection that is supposed to help the poor is

used to put them in greater destitution. Jewish religious leaders use the collection for self-

aggrandizement instead of alleviating poverty. There is a blatant abuse of power by the authorities,

therefore. This case is no different to what we have today! We find people in authority abusing their

power in any way they please, for example, EJKs, corruption, exploitation of the poor, etc. With all

these, Jesus reminds us that power entails responsibility and ends with service, not domination. The poor

are usually the ones affected when power is abused. Who are usually killed in EJKs? The poor! Where

are the rich drug lords? In prisons and enjoying their air-conditioned rooms or at courts or at the Senate

serving as state witnesses. Such clear example of power abuse!

Third, Jesus shows us how unjust social structures impoverish people. He thus invites us to fight

against social injustices by relieving poverty; that we have eyes not blinded to see the poverty of our

people and even of ourselves. He further wants us to look after the poor in our midst and to use our

power to serve them. So, let us be people of compassion! Pomposity is not the hallmark of our

Christianity but COMPASSION.

Fourth, Jesus asks us to guard against hypocrisy. We should not only wear our religion but,

importantly, live it out. We should be contemplatives in action. We must be people whose prayer leads

to action. For in every good act we do, we help bring Gods kingdom in the world.

Finally, the poor widows example teaches us that love in the giving is more important than what

is given. She knows that God looks into the heart, not in the appearance (1 Samuel 16: 7). As we are

sometimes caught between maintaining our churches and having true worship, may the poor widow

remind us of the fact that true worship is found in the heart! Remember that it is in the human heart that

God speaks most intimately to us. Conversely, it is in the heart that we speak to God truly and deeply.

My final challenge is this: what self-giving act of love can you do today to our poor brethren?