What gifts or challenges do the poor, the homeless, or the suffering bring us? Sometimes we need to look at the world through different eyes. The poor give us this chance. Instead of looking at the rich and famous, we look at those less fortunate.
But the poor give us another chance to look at the world in a new way. Instead of looking down in pity, they give us to chance to look at a world where material goods are not as important, where sharing one’s daily bread is a norm, not an exception. The story of the poor widow’s offering gives us this opportunity. And it provides the challenge to shake off any pretense money and comfort may bring.
Everyone I know who has ever lead in ministry (including me, the author) has secretly wanted to play to an audience. Every preacher, every teacher, has a small bit of entertainer in them. Every minister has wanted their few moments under the spotlight.
Of course, this is an immature reason to serve. Many people fight the urge (some even refuse to serve for this reason!). Many have this need fulfilled and have move on. Many simply grow out of the need and remain for the right reason: the joy of service.
Why did Jesus criticize the scribes directly? These men were the brightest, most influential, and most important experts on the Law. Since Jews in Judea, throughout the Roman Empire, and in many parts of the world lived in self-governing enclaves, the power of these scribes could not be underestimated. They were lawyers and judges. They were civic leaders and legislators. Their knowledge and ability were vital to the survival and the growth of God’s chosen.
A closer reading of the text revealed Jesus did not speak of their position and power. No, Jesus attacked the scribes for their love of the limelight. He slammed their love of reputation and implied they cheated the poorest of the poor (“houses of the widows”) for their own gain and the gain of their benefactors, the wealthy. On the heels of last week’s study about the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34), the words of Jesus had a special sting. What did the leaders love more, popularity or service? Self or God? The actions of the scribes said it all.
Mark’s gospel compared the actions of the rich with the giving of a simple widow. Many rich would take their time to give many coins, one at a time. Then a widow entered who have the little she had. On the surface, Jesus seemed to praise the sacrifice of the widow, who offered all she had that day to God.
However, many scholars believe that, beneath the surface, Jesus lamented the action of the widow. By sacrificing all she had, she became even more dependent upon others and even more of a burden on society. In a culture where survival was the priority, was such a sacrifice wise? Was this not an act of suicide?
In addition, who did she give to? The temple treasury was controlled by the same scribes Jesus criticized. The treasury funds were to be used for the poor, but, some have charged, they were really used for the expensive lifestyle of the scribes that Jesus detailed.
But, who was the widow ultimately dependent upon? God. She sacrificed all in the same way many neophyte Christians gave up social ties and economic support of extended family to follow the Way. This poor widow represented the Christian (just as Mary, the mother of Jesus and the widow of Joseph, embodied the movement). Jesus pointed to the self-giving of the widow as an example for all Christians to emulate. And he implicitly criticized the “show off” attitude of the rich who give to build up their reputation.
The poor widow gave all she had as a gift. She also gives us a gift. The opportunity to sacrifice our convenience, our self-centeredness, our petty concerns to share what we have with others. To her and all like her, let us express our gratitude.