32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Mass and Reflections : The Poor Widow's Mite

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
"Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation."

He sat down opposite the treasury

and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.

A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.

                                                                           Images Source  © Henry Martin.
                                                                                                 Free use for ministry purposes.
                                                                                            Not to be used for publication or profit.

 For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood."


Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are here 

 Psalm 146

St Louis Centre for Liturgy reflections are here 

Edge of Enclosure Reflections here

John Predmore S.J. reflections here 

Fr. Fergus Kerr OP has some fine reflections here. Extract below :

"The question is: Was Jesus commending the widow and recommending his followers to imitate her generosity — or was he passing judgment on the Temple, for its power to exploit her innocence?

In his judgment the Temple was certainly doomed. As Jesus leaves for the last time, a disciple cries out: ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ — to which he angrily replies: ‘Are you looking at these grand buildings? There will not be left one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down’ (13:1-2).

 Then, seated again, ‘on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple’, this time clearly in the judgment seat, Jesus delivers the lengthy address to the inner circle of the disciples, telling them about the signs of the coming end of the world, which leads, as St Mark tells us the story, into the Passion and the symbolic destruction of the Holy of Holies (chapters 14-16).

                                                                          Image source

In donating her ‘whole living’ to the Temple, the widow is often seen as summing up the story so far and foreshadowing what is to come. Her act of total self-impoverishment is taken as both exemplifying the kind of radical abandonment to God that Jesus calls for, and also anticipating, figuratively, his own coming self-sacrifice. 

The widow’s mite was equal to about one sixty-fourth of a day’s wage for a poorly paid labourer. She gives her little, which is her all. And, since it is all she has, its value in Jesus’s eyes infinitely exceeds what the affluent worshippers put into the treasury.

That’s one way of taking the episode. It focuses on the figure of the widow. What about the Temple and its holy men, however? Remembering the context, is the poor widow to be seen as heroically and even absurdly generous — or is she, rather, the ultimate innocent victim of a predatory system? 

Jesus concludes his teaching in the Temple by proclaiming that the scribes would ‘receive the greater condemnation’ — not only on account of their jockeying for privileges and faking lengthy devotions, but also because they ‘devour widows’ houses’ (12:40). They are condemned precisely for exploiting widows financially? Are we really to assume that Jesus could go on immediately to praise the poor widow for rendering herself destitute in order to help to fund these corrupt men and this doomed institution? 

By placing himself opposite the treasury as he leaves for the last time doesn’t Jesus focus on the Temple, not as the holy of holies, the sanctuary for the divine presence, partly indeed dependent on the charity of the worshippers, but solely as the great financial enterprise, which it also was, the principal industry in the city, and as prone to corruption as even great religious institutions have always been? 

Like Ezekiel or Amos isn’t Jesus raging against an institution that was so corrupt that, instead of protecting the most vulnerable, like the widow, it could deceive the likes of the widow into voluntarily supporting the very system that devoured their living?

In short: doesn’t the power of the Temple have to be broken? ‘When he gave a loud cry and breathed his last’, in the end, ‘the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom’ (15:37-38). Forty years would pass before it was actually razed to the ground but judgment had already been passed on the Temple. 

One lesson for us, alas, is that there are institutions in our own day which repeat this same pattern of deceiving innocent and generous people into willingly supporting them — long after the pretentions of such organizations should have been torn in two."

A few extra thoughts.

 A poor widow is deeply in touch with the personal meaning of loss and I think the quote from Jack London below brings home in a vivid way the contrast between her donation and the sham narcissistic charity of the rich posers and posturers. Their giving costs them nothing because it is surplus to their needs.

"A bone to the dog is not charity.  Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog."
Jack London

The widow's giving comes from a deep understanding of what it means to be without.

Her giving is not done for outer recognition but her compassion springs from a deeper inner well of humility and heartfelt empathy for those who are destitute or who have to scrape together just enough to survive.

 I like to think I have a heart that is generous and I know there have been times when my comfort zone is stretched when confronted with dire poverty and overwhelming need . But I also know too well that my faith is often compromised by my Western European lifestyle when compared to that of most people on this planet.

The Naomi Shihab Nye poem below gets close to what the true meaning of giving means, one that stems from our own inner poverty and loss, from a hospitality of the heart that means getting alongside others in their emptiness.

                                                                            Image source


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in the white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The finest gift that I can receive in this life comes from the Eucharist. That was the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus gave all of us; out of a broken and despised body we receive the love of our creator and then are asked to share it to renew ourselves and others in the world.

Table of Plenty Dan Schutte

Take Our Bread by Joseph Wise



 Take our bread, we ask you, 
Take our hearts, we love you, 
Take our lives, oh Father, 
We are yours, we are yours.

 Yours as we stand at the table you set, 
Yours as we eat the bread our hearts can't forget. 
We are the signs of your life with us yet; 
We are yours, we are yours. 

 Your holy people stand washed in your blood, 
Spirit filled, yet hungry, we await your food.
 Poor though we are, we have brought ourselves to you: 
We are yours, we are yours. 


These Alone Are Enough For Me Dan Schutte

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