The two-and a half-year drought in the land of Israel during the reign of the wicked King Ahab had taken its toll on the people. Food and water were scarce. Elijah, the prophet, was forced to go beyond frontiers in search of food and water.
When he arrived in Zarephath, in Sidon, he met a widow who was gathering firewood, he appealed to her to give him some water to drink. As she made her way to get him drinking water, he added, “Please bring me a scrap of bread in your hand.” The widow responded that she intended to use the firewood she was gathering to prepare a meal with the last flour and oil she had for herself and her son, after which they would die of starvation. Prophet Elijah implored her to share her meal with him, and that providence will take care of her needs until the drought ended. The widow shared her meal with Elijah, and the Lord provided for her and her son until rain fell again in Israel. What goes around, comes around. Generosity begets generosity.
Widows were one of the most vulnerable groups in the land of Israel. The other three vulnerable groups were Levites, orphans, and strangers. The Book of Deuteronomy states that, “At the end of every three years, you must take all the tithes of your harvests for that year and collect them in your community. Then the Levite – since he has no share or heritage of his own among you – the foreigner, the orphan and the widow living in your community, will come and eat all they want. And so, Yahweh your God will bless you in all the labours that you undertake.” (Deut 14:28-29). The fact that widows, as in the first Reading and Gospel of today, performed acts of generosity despite their meagre resources is worthy of commendation.
In today’s Gospel, (Mk 12:38-44), Jesus excoriated the Scribes for their hypocrisy. They wore long robes which set them apart as honourable men and had privileged seats in the synagogues and at weddings. People treated them with respect due to the position of authority they held in society – as educated men who were experts in the Law of Moses. During the time of Jesus, the Scribes, the chief priest, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees formed the aristocracy. A considerable number of Scribes belonged to the Pharisee party and shared in their strict adherence to the Law, and externalism such as reciting lengthy prayers in public. Jesus criticised them because despite their apparent piety they were wanting in fairness and compassion; they had no qualms in extorting money or items of value from widows. (Is 3:14).
We should examine our conscience daily to ensure that our words and actions are motivated by truth and justice. We should not be wolves in sheep clothing. Today, the Church is bleeding because of the hypocrisy of some of her past leaders. We must take Jesus’ criticism of the Scribes seriously and not repeat mistakes of the past.
Jesus praised the widow who put in two coins, an equivalent of a penny, for her generosity. Other rich people had put in more money than she. Some might have paid their tithes, (ten percent of their earnings), which would have been a huge sum depending on one’s income. However, the widow put in all she had, which was insignificant when compared to the total amount collected in the offering, but very significant when compared to her earnings.
One lesson we take from Jesus’ commendation of the widow’s offering is that none of our joys or tears or efforts go unnoticed in the face of God. We must not shy away from society and think that we have no worth, nor should we be overwhelmed by the number of poor people in the world. If we can make a difference in the life of one poor person at a time, that already is a huge success! Also, we should not think that participating in the Parish Sacrificial Offering is only for those who can pledge big dollars! No, every amount helps!
The generosities of these widows mirrored the generosity of Jesus, who though he was the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity, emptied himself and became human for our sanctification and justification. He did not only become human, but he offered himself totally on the cross that you and I may have life and have it to the fullest.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp