Responsorial Psalm – Ps. 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading – Heb. 9:24-28
Gospel Reading – Mk. 12:38-44
In this Sunday’s readings we have two stories of two widows. God has a special concern for widows, as the Responsorial Psalm tells us: “…the widow he sustains” (146:9). Another psalm refers to God as the “protector of widows” (68:5).
The common theme between the Old Testament reading from 1 Kings, and the Gospel reading from Mark, is that the widows involved have very little to give. The widow of 1 Kings is hesitant at first to give Elijah the little flour and oil that she and her son have. Elijah tells her to “not be afraid” (17:13). He is encouraging her to trust in the goodness and protection of God in the midst of poverty, sorrow and trial. She was afraid that once she and her son had eaten the little they did have that they would die. However, Elijah declares to her definitively, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…” (17:14).
The widow then begins to trust in the Lord and she gives to Elijah the little she had, and as a result, “She was able to eat for a year, and he [Elijah] and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…” (17:15-16).
Then we come to the reading from the Gospel of Mark. In the beginning of the passage Jesus condemns the scribes for their hypocritical pretentions. They love to be honored and be in places of honor. They are proud of their observance of the Torah, but, as Jesus says elsewhere they neglect the weightier matters of the law, namely, “justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23). They also, “devour the houses of widows…” (Mark 12:40a).
As George Martin notes in his book, Bringing the Gospel of Mark to Life, “Prophets denounced those who defrauded helpless people such as widows” (p. 334). For example, “I will draw near to you for judgment…against those who oppress…the widow and the orphan…” (Malachi 3:5). Jesus too confirms: “They will receive a very severe condemnation” (Mark 12:40b).
With this the scene is setup for a widow to enter the picture. Jesus observed many people putting money into the Temple treasury, with many rich people putting in much money. Then along comes a widow who puts two small coins, lepta, the smallest denomination of Jewish coin in circulation in the first century. Like the widow from the story in 1 Kings, she has very little to give. Dr. Mary Healy in her book, The Gospel of Mark, recognizes, “That the widow gave two suggests that she did not spare even what she could justifiably have kept for herself” (p. 253).
Jesus then calls the disciples to himself and gives them an astounding teaching. He says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:44).
In the eyes of the world the widow’s donation is not even worth mentioning. It could hardly have made a dent in the cost to the maintenance and upkeep of the Temple. However, as Healy notes, “God measures the gifts given him on a basis totally different from human calculations. He looks at the inner motives of the heart” (p. 254).
The widow in Mark’s Gospel, like the widow in 1 Kings, gives all she has her whole livelihood. Martin says, “The Greek word translated livelihood is also the word for life: in giving her whole livelihood, this widow gave her life, entrusting herself to God” (p. 336).
Finally, as Healy sees clearly, “Such reckless generosity parallels the self-emptying generosity of God himself, who did not hold back from us even his beloved Son. She is an exemplar of ‘the poor’ who are blessed by God because their whole treasure is not in earthly possessions but in God” (p. 254).
Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).
Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.