Giving Your All

In the course of his teaching Jesus said,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext,
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”
(Mark 12:38-44)

Scripture Study

12:38–39 As Jesus continues teaching in the temple courts he now takes direct aim at the scribes, who have been among his fiercest opponents. Earlier he had warned his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (8:15 RSV); now he tells his listeners, Beware of the scribes (using the same Greek verb, blepō). His point is not for people to stay away from the scribes, one of whom he has just praised (12:34), but to take care to avoid conduct like theirs. Such conduct—the opposite of what Jesus enjoins on Christian leaders (9:35; 10:15, 42–44)—will be severely condemned.

12:40 That the scribes devour the houses of widows could refer to their mismanaging widows’ estates, or sponging off their hospitality, or charging excessive legal fees, or other ways of fleecing them.10 Such financial abuse recalls Jesus’ denunciation of the temple as a “den of thieves” (11:17). In an empty show of piety, and perhaps as a cover for their fraudulent activity, the scribes recite lengthy prayers.

12:41 After denouncing the counterfeit piety of the scribes who “devour the houses of widows” (v. 40), Jesus now shows his disciples an example of true piety, on the part of a widow.

12:42 The poor widow who comes along is an example of the anawim (lowly ones) often mentioned in the Old Testament, the poor and afflicted who find their joy in God alone (Isa 29:19; 61:1; Zeph 2:3). Widows had no inheritance rights in ancient Israel, and usually had to rely on their children, male relatives, or charity for survival. The rich had drawn attention to themselves with their noisy donations, but Jesus’ attention is drawn to this lowly widow.

12:43–44 Jesus calls his disciples to himself—Mark’s signal that important instruction is about to take place—and makes a solemn declaration: this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors. One can imagine the disciples’ jaws dropping, as they had when Jesus declared the danger of riches (10:25–26). Had not the wealthy contributed far more toward the adornment and maintenance of the temple? Was not this woman’s donation practically worthless, so insignificant as to be beneath mentioning? Jesus explains: God measures the gifts given him on a basis totally different from human calculations. He looks at the inner motives of the heart (see 1 Sam 16:7; Luke 16:15).

Scripture Reflection

Friends, in today’s Gospel we read about the poor widow who gave her all to the Lord. Her simple generosity, her offering her whole livelihood, was a response to God’s unconditional love. God’s love comes first. When we get this wrong, everything else in the spiritual life is thrown off kilter. Listen to how St. John expresses this predilection: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the expiation of our sins.”

If we play the game of loving God in order to get God to love us, then we are lost. If we think that we can earn salvation or we can work our way into God’s heart, then we are lost. Here’s a good way to think about it: we wouldn’t exist were it not for God’s love. God needs nothing; therefore whatever exists outside of God exists because God desires some good for it. Love precedes, therefore, our intelligence, our courage, our wills, our designs and purposes, indeed our very existence.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.