In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus gives the disciples a lesson in true religion; the example He uses must have surprised them.
Gospel (Read Mk 12:38-44)
Jesus often warned His disciples of the dangers of false, empty religion. His strongest words of condemnation in the Gospels are always directed to those who make a showy pious flourish while, at the same time, pervert the meaning of God’s covenant with the Jews. There were scribes in His day whose goal was their reputation. They loved “seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets,” but they used their public show of religion to wrest contributions to the Temple (their source of income) from widows with the pretext of reciting “lengthy prayers.” Anyone who uses religion and reputation this way faces a “very severe condemnation.”
As it happened, when Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury,” He saw someone who was the living example of true religion. He pointed out that “many rich people put in large sums,” but a “poor widow…put in two small coins worth a few cents.” Nevertheless, Jesus teaches His disciples that she had contributed “more than all” the others. Why? She had given “all she had, her whole livelihood,” whereas the others gave “from their surplus.”
The woman’s contribution issued from faith and gratitude. By that one simple act, she demonstrated unreserved trust in the goodness of God and His promises to care for His people. She was not afraid to let go of everything and to cast herself completely on the loving mercy of God. The large sums given by the rich, although not rejected by God, did not equal the value of the widow’s few cents. Their offering cost them nothing; hers required everything.
The widow at the Temple was a living example of what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…but…treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also” (see Mt 6:19-21).
Possible response: Lord Jesus, please teach me to be as generous with myself as this widow, with her simple trust in the Father’s care.
First Reading (Read 1 Kings 17:10-16)
In this reading, we have another surprising example of the kind of faith God desires in His people—again a widow, again someone we would not expect to teach us about true religion. Elijah was the prophet sent by God to the rebellious ten tribes who broke away from Jerusalem and the throne of David to establish their own kingdom in the north (about 980 B.C.). In doing so, they sank into idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness. Through Elijah, God sent a drought on the land to punish them. Elijah could find no open, willing hearts to respond to his preaching of repentance. Therefore, God sent him into Gentile country, and, specifically, to this widow in Zarephath. Although she was not a Jew, when Elijah assured her that the Lord God of Israel would miraculously keep her and her son alive if she would give him some food from the last of her supplies, she believed him. A Gentile woman had greater faith than anyone is Israel! She gave all the food she had to the prophet (as the widow in the Gospel contributed all her money to the Temple treasury), and God did exactly as Elijah had promised.
We simply can’t miss the meaning of these readings. Whenever God asks us for everything (as He did of Jesus, Mary, and the apostles), we need not fear our loss. God will keep His word: “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (see Lk 6:38).
Possible response: Heavenly Father, each day I need to learn that it is in losing my life that I find it.
Psalm (Read Ps 146:7-10)
The psalmist is full of praise for God’s trustworthiness in caring for all those in great need who trust in Him—the oppressed, the captives, the blind, those who are bowed down with the heaviness of life, the strangers. In particular, “the fatherless and the widow He sustains.” These were the people who, in the psalmist’s day (and in Jesus’ day as well) were most likely to be overlooked and without protection. God’s people can count on Him. Therefore, we sing, “Praise the Lord, my soul.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Heb 9:24-28)
Why is it that we can, without any fear at all, count on God to care for us when we must give our all to Him, whether it’s our money, our bodies, or our wills? The author of Hebrews reminds us that God’s love for us is so enormous and endless that He sacrificed His own Son on our behalf, to free us of our sins. Having offered Himself, Jesus is now in heaven, “that He might appear before God on our behalf.” Why should we ever fear letting go of everything, should God ask it of us? What reason could we give to have anything other than generous hearts toward Him?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, You are now in heaven, appearing before our Father on my behalf. I have nothing to fear.