SACRIFICING ALL, TO RECEIVE ALL
32B. Mark 12:38-44.
AIM: Through the example of the widows generosity to deepen the hearers faith.
The Scripture commentators tell us that people who wished to make offerings to the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus day handed them to the priest on duty, who announced the amount, and what it was for, before depositing the offering in the appropriate urn. This explains how Jesus could know the amount given by the poor widow in the gospel reading we have just heard. The commentators believe she wanted to make an unrestricted gift. Such offerings were used to purchase animals for the Temple sacrifices. Her gift did not benefit the poor or some other good cause. It was for the sole honor of God.
Such a gift, especially from a woman who was herself poor, was sure to provoke criticism. The gospels record this criticism in the case of the woman who anointed Jesus feet with costly perfume. Why this waste? some of the bystanders ask indignantly. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. (Cf. Mark 14:5)
This criticism will always be heard whenever people offer gifts for the sole honor of God: to build or decorate a church, for instance. Such gifts can never be justified in purely this-worldly, utilitarian terms. They can be justified only on the basis of faith. And for those with faith, no justification is necessary.
Faith alone can justify the widows gift. And faith alone can motivate such a gift. That is what Jesus emphasizes in his comment. The utilitarian, worldly view sees the womans action as, at best, insignificant what good is so trifling a gift?; at worst, a scandal that a woman so poor herself should give all she had to live on, and not even for a good cause, but simply to be wasted for God.
Jesus sees her action from the perspective of faith, which is the perspective of God. God looks not at the outward action, nor at appearances. God looks at the heart. In Gods eyes what counts, therefore, is not the size of the gift, but its motive. The wealthy contributors were motivated at least in part by the desire for human recognition and praise. Theyre the people Jesus is talking about at the beginning of todays gospel. They like seats of honor in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. The widow can expect no such recognition. Her gift is too insignificant to be noticed. For God, however, no gift is too small provided it is made in the spirit of total self-giving that comes from faith and is nourished by faith.
Jesus recognizes this generosity in this unnamed widow. She gives all that she has to live on for that day. Even the detail that her gift consists of two coins is significant. She could easily have kept one for herself. Human prudence would say that she should have done so. She refuses to act out of prudence. She wants to give totally, disregarding prudence, trusting in God alone.
Jesus refers to the totality of the widows gift when he says that she has given more than all the others. They calculated how much they could afford to give. In the widows case calculation could lead to only one conclusion: she could not afford to give anything. Her poverty excused her from giving at all. She refuses to calculate. She prefers instead to trust in Him for whom all things are possible (Mark 9:23, 10:27, 14:36).
Marks choice of this little incident to conclude his account of Jesus public ministry is an example of the artistry with which he has composed this seemingly simple gospel, the shortest of the four. Immediately following this story Mark gives us Jesus teaching about the last days. He then moves swiftly to the Passover, Last Supper, and crucifixion. In saying that this poor widow has contributed all that she had, Jesus is anticipating his own total self-giving, soon to be consummated on Calvary. There he would give all that he had, even life itself.
This poor widow, unnamed and known to us by this single act, shows us better than long descriptions what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. True discipleship will always seem foolish, even mad, to those who live by worldly wisdom.
How foolish, many people say, for a young man or woman to forego marriage and a family in order to become a religious Sister or Brother, or a priest.
How foolish for a mother whose husbands earnings can cover all the familys needs to forego the extra income and prestige of her own career in order to stay at home and bake cookies, as a feminist senator said some years ago, pouring scorn on women to undertake the arduous task of full-time motherhood and child-rearing something admirable which deserves recognition and honor.
How foolish to remain faithful to marriage vows taken years ago for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death when the one to whom those vows were made has lost the bloom of youth, married life has become routine and flat, and no longer offers the zest and excitement which someone younger is offering with open arms and open heart.
Every one of those sacrifices is foolish, even mad, to those without faith. So was the poor widows gift in todays gospel: folly, utter folly. But the folly which inspired her sacrifice was divine. She had a wisdom higher than the wisdom of this world: the wisdom of faith. With her small gift she takes her place alongside the other great biblical heroes of faith, from Abraham to Mary, who set their minds first on Gods kingdom, confident that their needs would be provided by Him who (as Jesus reminds us) knows that you have need of these things (Luke 12:30). This poor widow is one of those whom Jesus was talking about when he said: Fear not, little flock; for your Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:32).
This widow is also one of that huge crowd which no one can count (Rev. 7:9) whom we celebrated on All Saints Day those whose faith inspired them to sacrifice all for Jesus Christ, and who in so doing received from him the hundredfold reward that he promised (Mark 10:30).
Now, in this hour, Jesus is inviting each one of us to join that happy company: to sacrifice all, that we may receive all. He
challenges us to begin today!