In the ancient near East, widows didn’t have insurance, a pension or social security to help them. For survival, they depended on the charity of their relatives or friends. Yet in the first reading today, it was the widow who cared for the prophet Elijah. Because the widow was so gentle, she gave all that she had. Because of her generosity, she was blessed with enough food – a year’s worth – until the drought ended.
In the Gospel today, Jesus was standing in the temple of Jerusalem two days before his arrest. At that time, the temple was divided into a number of different areas to which access was increasingly restricted. Outside was the “Court of the Gentiles.” This area was open to all. The first area inside was the “Women’s Court” only open to Jewish men and women. Next was the “Men’s Court”, only open to Jewish men. Then came the “Court of Priests”, only open to temple priests. Finally, there was the most sacred area of all: the “Holy of Holies”, which could only be entered by the high priest – once a year.
Around the walls of the ‘‘Women’s Court” were thirteen urns shaped like trumpets for the receipt of the temple tax and other offerings. Visitors to the temple did not place their offerings in the urns themselves, however. The contributor would hand the money offering to the priest on duty, and the priest would then announce the amount of the offering and placed it into the urn. This explains how Jesus would have known the amount given by the poor widow in the Gospel today.
Jesus was watching the people who entered the temple giving their offering to the temple priest for the collection box. He saw individuals – each one with his/her own personal story – some with an easier load, others bent down under the weight of their troubles. Many who were wealthy contributed generously; but they did it begrudgingly out of their abundance. They were giving from their leftovers. There was no personal sacrifice – there was nothing of themselves in their gift.
Then a poor widow came by and placed two small copper coins (worth about sixty cents) into the hands of the priest who announced the amount of gift. You can almost see the rich pulling their fine robes around them so that they wouldn’t come into contact with the poor woman. But that poor woman was the very one Jesus was waiting for. Turning to his disciples Jesus said: “I want you to observe that this poor widow contributed more than all the others who donated to the treasury. They gave from their surplus wealth, but she gave from her want, all that she had to live on”.
The widow’s offering impressed Jesus so much because of the spirit in which it was given. Insofar as the upkeep of the temple was concerned, those little coins were practically worthless. But the widow’s goodness of heart was priceless.
The two widows in today’s readings are really the same. Each of the women was motivated by a deep conviction that she was not the center of her life. Each woman was very poor, each had personal need, each was a widow with no visible means of support, and each gave all that she had as a pure and unselfish act of faith. They had complete faith and trust that God would provide for them in their need.
What is God asking of us on this weekend; because all of us are poor and helpless if you really think about it? He is asking us to take the same risk that the widows took and put all our faith and trust in Jesus and in his church. The two widows in the readings today became strong when they relinquished what seemed to be their strength – and so it is with us. When we surrender our hearts, our wills, our prejudices, our attitudes to God; and when we accept our daily crosses, we come to
See the great generosity of God, and our minds and hearts and lives begin to change so that it is no longer we who live, but rather Christ who lives in us.