…they contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty…
The words above are from this Sunday’s gospel passage from St. Mark.
I cannot help but link this observation by Jesus with his teaching of the greatest commandments: Love of God (the Shema) and love of neighbor. The freedom that comes with loving by “willing the good of the other—simply as other,” is seen in The Beatitudes of Our Lord and by the way he lived his own life on earth. Do we not see the same dynamic of love of God and love of neighbor in the example of the wealthy donors compared to the poor widow dropping her “few cents” into the temple treasury?
I love how Mark describes Jesus as having positioned himself opposite the temple treasury and, while sitting there, observed how the crowd went about making donations. We should take a moment in our imaginations and sit there with Jesus ourselves. What would we think? I think that I, for one, would not know necessarily who was wealthy and who wasn’t. You know, not all wealthy people “make their presence felt,” while others are easy to spot. The
ones who are easy to recognize, perhaps by dress, talk, or deportment, we might surmise to be somehow approaching the donor table with delight at being included amongst those to be noticed—you know, the type of people who enjoy saying things like, “Do you know to whom you are speaking?” Such folks surely get a return on their investment—maybe something of pride, power, or position. Make no mistake, this type of giving or volunteering has sidestepped pure love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus says in another place, “You have already received your reward.” Remember how Sister or our parents taught some of us: “Don’t brag about what you did, you’ll lose all the grace!”?
On the other hand, sitting with Jesus there long enough, we will most likely see that person resembling the widow who gives almost invisibly—so ordinary, so humble a person, that we hardly notice. And yet on reflection, we cannot help but be inspired, maybe even deeply moved, by the genuineness, purity, and sincerity that flows from the experience. Truly that widow was single-hearted and free. She is enviable in her detachment and, as Jesus said, “not far from the kingdom of God.”
Finally, there is the matter of giving from one’s poverty. It is certainly reliable that there is such a thing as being “poor in spirit.” That is just a matter of spiritual detachment—”I own my things, but my things don’t own me.” The wealthy who are poor in spirit have a real sense of putting their wealth at the service of building Christ’s kingdom on earth. But there is the more courageous kind of detachment that is, by choice, not only poor in spirit but also poor in fact. Saint John Paul II recommended that priests be poor in fact, so as to be all the more free to serve. With you, dear friends, I struggle. You know, even women and men vowed to poverty sometimes struggle with being poor in fact. As a bishop friend of mine once quipped, “We’ve given up everything, therefore we deserve the very best!” How’s that for rationalizing away “Leave all things behind and come and follow me”?