“What is important to Jesus is not how much or how many we offer but how and why we offer, the spirit, the intention or attitude with which we make our offering”
By Fr. Fabien, sx –
In today’s Gospel Jesus warns us about the hypocrisy of the scribes and reminds us about the widow’s total trust in God. This Gospel’s timely relevance provokes us to choose whom we want to stand for: the scribes or the widow, two examples extremely contrasting.
A) The appearance of scribes: two of their attitudes are stigmatized:
- First stigmatization: “the scribes like going around in long robes and accepting greetings in marketplaces, taking seats of honor in synagogues and places of honor at banquets”. Their concern is to appear, the visibility: they liked to show themselves, exhibit their superiority and to dominate others. Their attitude is the triumph of exteriority, the primacy of appearance and the cult of the personality. They pay more attention to appearances and exterior image. There is no place for interiority, for authenticity and depth.
- The second stigmatization is this: “scribes devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.” They looted the women who were already vulnerable in their solitude and used long litanies, prayer and law in order to exploit the poor and the defenseless and protect their own interests. They took advantage of the hospitality and the generosity of the poor. Scribes took advantage of their social position and religious authority to impose themselves, exploit others or enrich themselves. Our modern society that values appreciates and judges almost all according to what appears is not far away from the arrogance of the scribes and Pharisees.
B) The discretion of a nameless widow.
The widow is in contrast with scribes and Pharisees. During the collection, Jesus was observing how the crowd was putting money into the collection box. Many rich people put sizeable amounts. A poor widow also came and put in her only two small coins worth a few cents. Jesus, who was observing the crowd, noticed the difference as an evident contrast between many rich people and one widow on one hand, and the large amount of money offered by the rich people and the only two small coins offered by the widow, on the other hand. The rich offered their surplus, the extra, the excess of their wealth and of their business, but their property remained untouched, intact and complete. But, in the middle of the crowd, there was a widow who offered all that she had to live on. She gave without being noticed all that she possessed. In short, she gave herself.
In comparison with the attitude of the scribes who sought to appear and the money that they put in the box tinkle out of glory and praise in front of the crowd, scribes that exploited the houses of the widows (maybe this widow was also exploited by them), this widow in her poverty gave all in humility. What is impressive is the attitude of this widow, poor but she gave all that she had to live on. She neither did any calculation nor thought twice. What remained with her is the divine providence, God only. Nobody noticed her, and the value of her offering escaped the superficial look of the disciples and the crowd whose sight doesn’t go beyond the appearances. The humble attitude of the widow didn’t make news and noise, but her act didn’t escape Jesus’ searching, scrutinizing and penetrating look. The widow gave her offering with all humility without playing the fanfare and doing exhibition so that all may know that she gave an offering.
Most of the time we accompany our offering with our signature and asking for recognition certificate; we give offering to show that we are generous and good and maybe we are also expectant of receiving in return what we have given away.
What is important to Jesus is not how much or how many we offer but how and why we offer, the spirit, the intention or attitude with which we make our offering. This widow teaches us that the criterion of the offering is not the quantity but the quality, the faith. Who trusts in God can not hesitate to give all. She teaches us that “It is not the hand that gives but the heart”. For Jesus, the measure is not the quantity but the Totality: she put all that she had to live on. We have given anything yet if we don’t give all. None of us is so poor, so selfish, and stingy that he has nothing to offer or give.
There is no capitalism in charity. What is more important is not the money or thing we can give but the love that we put in our giving or our sharing something with others.
The widow becomes the example for the community of the disciples “she gave all”, not the surplus because her faith is the faith of a person who trusts in God and His providence. You and I, all of us, have two small coins to share, offer and give.