Monday of Week 34 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 21:1-4

Today we begin the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, preceding his account of the Passion. Jesus is still in Jerusalem and spending time preaching in the Temple.

As he stood one day near the treasury where there were 13 trumpet-shaped boxes to receive the offerings, he saw among all the well-off people dropping in their (surplus) money, a poor widow who put in two copper coins of very small value.

Jesus immediately comments on her generosity and faith. The others were putting in offerings which they could easily afford; it would have involved no diminution of their lifestyle, no hardship of any kind. But this woman was a poor widow and therefore belonging to the least advantaged of all people in that society. In fact, poverty and widowhood were, for many, almost synonymous.

And this woman put in everything she had. It has been observed that she had two coins and she put in both. In the circumstances, she need only have put in one and kept the other for her own needs. Jesus sets her up as an example of someone who put her total trust in God’s providence. She gave everything to him.

No one is saying that one should literally follow her example – it could be seen as irresponsible. We are told to love our neighbours – but also ourselves. At the same time, how often when we do dip into our pockets do we really give to others money that we were thinking of spending on something we do not really need? Or are we like the people in today’s story who casually give money they will not miss in the slightest? There is a difference between ‘giving alms’ and sharing our goods and good fortune with those who have less, a lot less, than us.

St Paul, writing to the Christians of Corinth (and quoting from Exodus 16:18) and appealing for help for poorer Christian communities, says in part:

For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. For I do not mean that there should be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may also supply your need, in order that there may be equality. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” (2 Cor 8:12-15)

This is a nice description of what justice in our society means.

There have been Christians who closely followed the widow’s example. St Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) absolutely refused to have any stable income for her work and she was not alone in this. And, it has often been remarked that it is people at the lower end of our society who are most generous in supporting needy causes.

The fact that this story comes just before the Passion has led many to see in this woman a symbol of Jesus himself, who will, in the words of the Letter to the Philippians, “empty himself” completely and surrender his whole life totally into the hands of his Father, holding nothing back. But even during Jesus’ life, he seems to have had no private means of any kind. At the same time, he was not a beggar. He simply lived a life where he gave totally of himself, and others gave him in return just what he needed at any particular time.

Clearly, most people cannot literally follow the example of Jesus, but there are many examples of people who did. If only we too could have that kind of trust, that kind of generosity, that ability to share and that kind of freedom – freedom from material ‘wants’ and freedom for others.

The richest person is not the one who has accumulated much, but the one who has the least needs. In this sense, this poor widow was rich indeed.

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