(1942 - 2017)
The Widow’s Mite
James C. Christensen (September 26, 1942 – January 8, 2017) was an American illustrator and painter of religious and fantasy art. He lived in Utah and was a member
of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
The original is an oil painting.
Christensen uses striking light and dark to symbolize spiritual and worldly power. The poor widow, who gave all she had, glows with an inner light. Even her ragged clothing is luminescent. By contrast, the rich men in their expensive robes fade
into the shadows behind this woman's radiance.
An element that made this work so unique was Christensen's choice to depict the widow as a young woman. Michelangelo did this with “Pieta” depicting the Virgin Mary as younger than her Son. The message being that virtue and goodness radiate as youth.
38 “As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation’.
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’”.
Before starting the Eschatological Discourse (Chapter 13) and the Passion of Jesus, this text concludes Chapter 12 which was dedicated to a series of teachings in the context of the confrontation of Jesus with the leading parties of the Jews.
This Gospel text has two distinctive parts: a warning against the behaviour of the Scribes (vv. 38-40) and an example of behaviour which explains the previous warning by way of contrast (vv. 41-44).
Jesus and Money
Many of us may feel a little uncomfortable talking about money in the context of faith. However, money is the second thing about which Jesus talks the most, the first being the Kingdom of God.
This text sets out clearly how Jesus accepts alms giving to the Temple as an expression of love of God, as a consequence of one’s commitment to faith. Considering Jesus’ saying “Give to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God” does not mean that money should not be given to God. On the contrary: real love of God, inspires the greatest acts of generous giving.
People often give the most extravagant gifts to express their love for a beloved one. In fact, a wedding ring, a surprise cruise, the most expensive dinner needn’t be justified, because all understand them as an expression of sincere love.
Is our gratitude to God as generous when we give alms in the Church? As someone put it: the way we spend our money will eventually have an effect in the way we feel about our own selves.
Jesus has eyes to see the love the poor widow has for God, against the hypocritical attitude of the Scribes who give out of duty and reluctantly, even if they put in the treasury greater amounts of money.
Jesus and Cult Religion
Some people claim that Jesus rejected altogether the established Jewish traditions and the Temple. This is to repudiate the Church and any “organized religion”. However, we need to be intelligent and discern if this is what Jesus meant when He spoke harshly against the religious institutions of his time.
We know for certain that Jesus year after year and as a faithful Jew made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and took part in the religious ceremonies performed there. He instituted the community of Disciples and celebrated with them the Jewish Festivals. He took part in the prayer at the Synagogues every Sabbath. On no occasion is He recorded as saying that people should not pray or go to Jerusalem.
Jesus however stressed the importance and prevalence of the heart against any form of ritual performance. In this sense, we can say that religion is void without faith.
This is exactly what happens in the passage of the Gospel. Jesus could have dismissed the widow telling her to pick her two coins and return home, because she couldn’t afford to give anything; that she was doing was for show and not practical. He could have said that it was all a pretentious lie, provoked by trying to imitate the Scribes.
Instead, He pointed out that the attitude of the Scribes was void of meaning because what they were offering was for show, the one trying to outdo the other with apparent generosity while the widow was truthful to her heart, sincere and showed her trust in divine providence because she gave all she had and thus her action was praiseworthy and more pleasing to God.
Love of God and Love of Neighbour
Last week we saw Jesus explaining how we should ‘love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘love one’s neighbour as oneself’, adding that ‘this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices’.
We see now that sacrifices and offerings when inspired by a sincere love of God and of neighbour recover their full meaning.
While Jesus said to the Scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”; He presents the widow as a paradigm of the Kingdom: “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on”. The Kingdom of God is therefore a Kingdom of life and love. This poor widow’s example was all about giving all she had to rely exclusively on the providence of God.
Eyes to Contemplate
Mark describes the loving attitude of Jesus who pays close attention to the simple events taking place in the Temple that day and his preference towards the behaviour of this poor woman.
His contemplative attitude allows him to see the signs of the Kingdom in in contrast with the arrogance of the Scribes.
The widow was not looking for any status or recognition in the life of the Temple. She would rather slip away trying not to be noticed.
Against the presumptuous presence of the Scribes, Jesus restores the widow to her full dignity. Being a poor person, a destitute woman, she becomes a model of discipleship. She becomes the paradigm of the Kingdom, an example of true generosity of heart.
Only Jesus could draw such a close resemblance of humanity to the likeness of Kingdom of God. Jesus described the Kingdom as a little seed, as a dragnet full of fish. Here He compares the Kingdom of God to a poor neglected widow who surrenders all she has to God in the full certainty that she will lack nothing”.
“What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart”.
From “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti
“Dear Lord, teach me to be generous;
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and not to seek reward,
Except that of knowing that I do your will”.
St Ignatius of Loyola
“God cannot be surpassed in generosity”. We are invited to make that experience in our own lives by exercising generosity towards God, the Church, and towards the poor.
Have we ever received a sign of extravagant generosity?
Have we ever done an act of extravagance generosity?
How does it feel like?
Are we ready to be extravagant givers for the love of God?
We have inherited our faith from a Church made of living stones, temples where the Spirit of God dwells. However, some consider the Church as an “formal religion”. We are called to give reason for our faith, so that our Church may be better known as a loving Community manifested in the love we have for one another and for the stranger, ‘for the last, for the least and for the lost’.
Humility is a value rarely promoted and so essential to our Christian life. We may think of ways that we can grow into a spirit of humility, first of all, by praying for it, but also by playing a hidden role in serving, in our family, in our Church, in our working place.
To become child-like and humble we need to lose our pre-conceived ideas, our prejudice and our notions of status. How can I develop a contemplative attitude, an attitude that allows me to see beyond the surface and into the deep hidden treasures of love with realism?
In the beatitudes, Jesus promised a clear vision of God to those who are “pure in heart”. We desire, pray and long for a humble heart.
 Matthew 22: 21 Matthew 17: 24: “When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes, he does’. And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others’, Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free’”.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”.  Matthew 12:6: “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here”. Mark 11: 15: “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves”. Mark 13: 2: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down”. Mark 14: 58: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”. Mark 15:38: “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom”.  Mark 12: 33  Mark 12: 26-27: “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong”.  Psalm 23: 5: “You prepare a table before me / in the presence of my enemies. / You anoint my head with oil; / my cup overflows”.  Philippians 2:8: “Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross”.  Matthew 5: 8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”.