The poor widow in today’s Gospel reading could hardly have ever dreamed that her trip to the Temple that day would be remembered by Christians for centuries. This brief episode has some contrasts that carry important truths for us.
The first contrast is between the widow, who gave little, and other contributors who gave a great deal more. The Lord remarks that the little she gave represented her very self. She gave quietly, from a loving heart. The widow could have made a good case for not being able to contribute anything at all. Or she could have put in one of the coins and kept the other.
But true giving must have sacrifice connected with it – even a certain courageous recklessness. The worth of an offering is in terms of the amount of self-giving involved.
This widow’s faith meant a great deal to her, she was not casual about it, and her commitment to it called forth generosity of spirit. Jesus said that she put in more than all the other contributors.
People can be very generous to the Church. Some give money and others give their hands, their strength, their time, their talent, their energy and their loyalty. However, the Lord’s emphasis is not on quantity but quality.
This difference holds true throughout the spiritual life. It is not the number of prayers we say that is important but the sincerity with which we pray them. It is not the number of hours we spend in a church that is important but what we are doing while we are in church.
It is not the frequency of confession that is important but the sincerity and depth of our purpose of amendment. The Lord’s emphasis is on depth, sincerity and honesty. This is the heart of true religion. Otherwise, religion is reduced to external motions and empty gestures. The Letter to the Hebrews today reminds us that Jesus gave the father everything He was. We are called to do the same.
The second contrast is between the widow and the scribes. What the Lord criticises about some of the leaders of the people is not their public expression of faith but that public expression of faith was all there was to it. It was for public consumption alone. Inside, they were spiritually vacant. Their religion was all sizzle, no steak, all packaging but no content.
On the other hand, the poor widow gave from her heart. The few coins she placed in the poor box expressed a level of sacrifice and generosity the scribes were unprepared to give. It is always tempting for us to substitute external gesture for inner conversion. The opposite extreme, of course, is to claim an inner conversion that never sees the light of day in how we live.
True religion can inspire new heights and depths and breadths of such aspects of goodness as generosity, altruism and compassion, as with the widow Jesus observed in the temple.
Certainly, the true practice of religion helps further motivate good people to best practice loves self-giving.
Consonant with our religion, let’s face our difficulties – at work, within our family, and in the community and society – with religious faith, courage and generosity.
Let’s try to be a giver rather than a taker; to help out and not to hinder; to build up and not tear down; to encourage, and not to criticise; to be thoughtful and kind, a ready listener to the troubles of others; and motivated by the genuine caring taught and exemplified by the good Lord of our religion.