Give out of your means not your meanness? Monday, 34th week in ordinary time -Luke 21:1-4
Jesus is in the temple having cleansed it. It is here that he observes the behaviour of those giving alms; both rich and poor. A few verses prior to this text we find Jesus launching an all-out attack on the scribes. They were giving our Lord a hard time. He responded to his disciples and to others listening in by exposing the scribes. They are greedy with an eye on the possessions of the widows, devouring the homes of these widows. (verse 47).
We are also told that Jesus literally kept watching (imperfect tense in Greek) the people putting money into the temple treasury. This therefore, was a studied observation of our Lord. It was Passover and there would have been a large number of pilgrims from all over the Empire and many of them would be wealthy.
The treasury was around the court of the women where men and women were allowed to go. There were 13 trumpet-shaped boxes that served as the treasury. People could bring in their offerings and drop them in one of these 13 offering boxes. As the offering boxes were made of metal and the opening to the box was a horn, the sound of any coin being put in these boxes would be amplified drawing the crowds attention especially to very generous contributors. It is here that Jesus notice a poor widow and the contribution she puts in.
Let us talk about the widow as a person and then her offering. Widows had it very tough in Jesus’ day. The status of every wife in the community depended on the status of her husband. When her husband died all her status and security died with him. In many cases the woman was cast out for she was no longer useful.
The woman in the narrative was not just a widow, but also poor and anonymous. She is the only person in the Bible who was identified as a “poor widow,” not only once but four times – twice in Luke (verse 2, 3) and twice in Mark (Mark 12:42, 43). The Bible never explicitly says that the widow in the narrative was hungry, starving or famished. Yet what we do know is that this widow who was otherwise completely unknown, was a great giver. Her identity is defined by her relationship with God and because of this, in a true reversal of everything this world teaches us, she ends up being the least vulnerable person of all.
The New International Version of the Bible translates the coin as a “mite” and the RSV as “two very small copper coins.” The mite (lepton) was a light coin with its origins in the Greek language; ‘lepta’ means ‘a tiny thing.’ It was the smallest coin available in circulation. According to Jewish law at the time, it was not permissible to cast in less than two coins.
Even though this was a very small or tiny coin, in Jesus’ eyes any gift or giver is sweet, significant and substantial when it is given sincerely in service and not superficially for show. This poor widow could have kept one copper coin. But she gave everything she had. Nobody but the Lord knew her sacrifice, her struggles and her sustenance. The value of a gift is determined by how much that gift costs the giver. The poor widow’s gift cost her everything.
The widow was anonymous because she needed no recognition, recompense or even respect. It was not the amount given away that gauges her financial success, but the percentage. That’s what the story of the widow’s mite is all about. This poor widow challenges a common excuse that we will give when we have more. This widow had very little yet, she was a giver. There is a difference between ‘giving alms’ and sharing ourselves, our goods and good fortune with those who have less, a lot less, than us.
Giving is obligatory for the rich and the poor, man and woman, holy or hypocritical people. Jesus was not against people who were rich, who became rich or who pursue riches. If there’s any blame in the rich the blame goes to the lack of concern for the poor. He was against them for being ungrateful, ungodly and ungenerous to God.
Throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament God has always had a special place in His heart for the widows and orphans, the last and the least, the marginalized, the vulnerable. Today he spells out his preferential love for them and for more than just a sentimental reason