The generosity of the widow
In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’
He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’
Jesus encounters and sums up the characteristics of three classes of people in the Gospel today
(1) Jesus condemns the Scribes
Those ridiculous pompous arrogant vain, self-seeking, self-important scribes, who are both seen and heard, say and do anything to attract notice, and make heads turn to look, dressing to make a statement, to gain a certain fame and notoriety and honour – all for them is external show and their religion is skin deep. They were loud in dress and manner, larger than life characters, dressed to impress and for effect, affected, thier manners studied and yet they were ultimately hollow people.
We all know people who value others (or us) only insofar as they have status, fame, money, celebrity and authority in office, people of rank, and are people of influence. These society people summarily dismiss those (of us) who may lack any influence or status, and who did not go to posh schools, and judge us by our educational attainment or our address in town. What matters to them is who we may know or they name drop who they know.
They are the snobs of this world. Perish the thought that we might have ambitions in this direction. We can all think of people whose accents differ remarkably as adults from their upbringing and background, who came from the wrong side of the tracks but you wouldn’t guess it now. It is extraordinary how put on some people are in their new found accent, diction and affectation. Where they shop or even where they go for coffee as well the brand names they wear - are all fashion statements and a keeping up with the Joneses. What and who they value is vanity.
(2) Jesus is not impressed by the wealthy
The rich (or nouveau riche) in the temple all gave well within their budget. The tinkling or clanking of the many coins, as there were no notes, would echo in the corridors of the Temple, signalling the amount they contributed. They would also attract notice and praise. ‘They have had their reward’. But for all the quantity there was no merit in it. The merit in a sacrifice is the value of what you are giving up, what you are surrendering, but they gave of their plenty. Their contribution was calculated and measured, and fell within their budget. They had plenty left over.
The greatest lesson I ever received about generosity was from a wise Capuchin friar, who told me: – be a generous giver and a gracious receiver. Not counting the cost to ourselves – that is sacrifice and the meaning of true love for one another – it is selfless. It is Christian love, because it was the love Christ showed us. It is why she has her reward in heaven, and why we must do likewise, ‘to give and not to count the cost’.