He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (St. Mark Ch. 12: 41-44)
Are we surprised by what Jesus says? Then we think to ourself that the widow is a very giving person. Her two coins were a great sacrifice for her. We must realize that Jesus is trying to teach us something. Christ is telling us that all of us are called to give to others, but we aren’t to give just what we have left over. We are to give from the bottom of our hearts so that others will have what they need.
Life is not living for ourselves and nor is it standing around watching. Life is participation. Life is giving and receiving, risking and reaching, winning and losing, connecting and contributing. Life is all of this. What our faith teaches us is a variation on this basic lesson. The basic lesson is: life is participation. Our faith teaches us the best way to live your life is to participate in the life and work of God.
The poor widow gives her last coins, her mite as it is called in some older translations, to the Lord.
Before we meet this woman, we learn something from Jesus about the scribes, people who worked in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus criticizes them. They walked around in their professional robes. They sought places of honor. They did something else. They would “devour” the houses of widows. It is not clear just what was going on, but obviously they used the position and power for the very opposite of service. They used it to abuse people and gain wealth for themselves.
Right after Jesus has said how these scribes abuse widows, impoverishing them, he sees this widow. She is poor. She may have been made poor by the scribes. Yet she still makes an offering at the Temple. You cannot help but wonder what is going on here. Why would someone who may have been abused by the scribes or who probably at the least knew of such practices, still give money to the Temple where these people worked? What is evidently happening here is the widow is making an offering to God. She may well know the abuses of the Temple scribes, but she still loves God. She may know the scribes will not help her but she trusts God will help her. So she goes to the Temple and makes this extraordinary gift.
Jesus blesses her and uses her as an example. In the act of giving all she had, she puts herself at risk. In the act of giving all she had she demonstrates her faith in God. She could have so easily hung on to what little she had. She could have so easily condemned the Temple and used her anger to excuse herself from any show of support. But it was, for her, God’s Temple. Her offering was for God’s work. In making this offering the woman is participating in God’s work and in God’s life. Somewhere along the line of her life she learned to trust God.
The poor widow is demonstrating what happens when we deliberately participate in God’s life and work. When you practice participating in God’s life you learn to trust God’s life. Jesus would not praise this woman if her offering was a kind of bribe, a gift to God with the expectation or demand God do something for her and do it quick. Jesus knows enough about this woman to know he is witnessing an act of faith. He praises her for her act of faith.
We really do not know how the woman came to have such faith, but it must have been in the same basic way we can all grow in faith. She practiced participating in the life of God and learned she could trust God’s responses. The point of tithing as they recovered was not to bribe God to help them. It was to practice trusting God as they worked out of their troubles.
Giving is one way to participate in the life of God. There are other ways. Worship, prayer, study, serving but giving is one of them. One reason to give is to give back to God, to give back to God for the blessings God has given into your life. Another reason to give is to be a witness for Christ. Yet one more reason to give is to participate in the life of God, to participate through your giving in the life of God.
We all like to think we are generous people and we lend a helping hand when there is a need. That is true, but we also need to give when we ourselves are not in the very best position to lend. Money is not the only thing that we can give; we can offer our time, our ears, our words and our presence. Let us try not to give what we do not need but offer our very best to God.
Life is participation. Life is best when it is participation in the life of God.