Winning God’s Attention

Mark 12: 38-44
2 Tm 4: 1-8 / Ps 71: 8-9, 14-17, 22

…this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.
(Mark 12: 43)

With nothing of my own from birth,
With nothing but hope I aspire
To claim when I depart this earth,
Your kingdom as my sole desire.

As Jesus taught, He said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market-places, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people gave large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling His disciples to Himself, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on. (Mark 12: 38-44)

Reflection

In the course of His teaching, Jesus brought His disciples’ attention to two contrasting figures: the proud, status-seeking teachers of the law, and the lowly, humble widow. One craved for the admiration of people, and the other walked in the shadows, shunning public attention. The former sought the honor of men, the latter the attention of God. And we can clearly see that while the self-important scribes were condemned to “be punished most severely”, that nameless widow earned the praise and admiration of God Himself.

In the many instances that widows are portrayed in the Bible, we take note that they must belong to one of the lowest rungs in the social ladder, just above the lepers in old Palestine. Their financial distress made them totally dependent on male relatives or the alms of total strangers. They were usually so badly off that it was unlikely they could contribute anything to the temple treasury at all. But here was a widow bearing the smallest of Jewish coins, hardly of any value, but it was all that she had. For Jesus, it was not the value of the offering that mattered, but the intention deep in the widow’s heart. In her dire need and destitution, she surrendered all that she possessed — her only means of subsistence — out of love and devotion to God, trusting in His providential care.

Perhaps it is just our human nature to crave for respect and admiration from others. That is why we work so hard to attain wealth and prestige. The world’s standard for fame and honor is how much one has given to his church or charitable causes. But as Jesus pointed out in today’s Gospel passage, honor and wealth do not count for anything in the eyes of God. It is not the amount that we give that makes our gift significant; it is how much that is left for ourselves that makes the difference. Jesus praised the poor widow, even though her gift was hardly of any value compared to the vast amounts donated by others to the temple treasury, because even if she knew she would have nothing left, she believed and trusted that God would take care of her needs. Like most widows in Palestine at that time, she had no one to depend on for survival, and her act was a total surrender to God’s mercy. And sure enough, she caught God’s attention.
Forgive us, dear God, whenever we take the poor and the weak for granted because we are more concerned about our status and other worldly needs. Remind us always that ‘the poor will always be with us’ for the important reason that they are our ticket to heaven. Amen.

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