When the books of Old Testament refer to the poor they often list three categories of people: the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Deut 14:29). The Hebrew Scriptures constantly invite people to be sensitive to the needs of these three types of vulnerable people: the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Ps 94:6; Jer 7:11). When it talks about the justice of God, the Old Testament speaks of the God who defends the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Ps 146:9). In the New Testament, Jesus invites those who want to follow him to be kind to the poor: “Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21).
Against this backdrop, the gospel text of today becomes very telling. Jesus is inside the temple in Jerusalem, and he is touched by the generosity of this poor widow towards her religion, as she contributes to the maintenance of the temple and the upkeep of the priests. Jesus uses this occasion to once again impart a message on discipleship. The widow in today’s gospel was not only materially poor – because she was a widow, but also poor in spirit – because ‘she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.’ A true disciple is poor in spirit – being able to totally depend on God. A true disciple is able to make themselves vulnerable in front of God. A true disciple is able to give to God the best part of oneself.
Often we water down the meaning of this text, or rob the text of its depth of meaning by quoting it as an example of generosity. (Oh yes, generosity is a good human virtue!) Or, some avaricious church ministers may even use this text to exhort their people to contribute generously to church collection. I think, the meaning of the text here goes beyond money, wealth, and possessions: Am I able to make myself vulnerable in the presence of God? Am I able to stand before God, with my arms open and empty, with my mind still searching for answers, and my heart ready to respond to the Grace of God? Or am I seeking false security in my past achievements, in my name and fame, in my knowledge and education, in my material wealth, and in my attachment to people?
The story of the widow is only the culmination in a series of people in the Gospels who abandon their false securities in the presence of God:
The Magi opened their treasures and humbly prostrate before the baby in whom they have seen the presence of God (Mt 2:1-11);
The disciples when called by Jesus leave their boats, hired men and even their father and follow Jesus (Mk 1:20, also Mt 4:22);
When Mathew the tax collector encounters Jesus he is ready to leave his table and follow Jesus (Lk 5:27-28);
Zacchaeus is willing to give half of his property to the poor (Lk 19:9);
Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, leaves his upper garment and comes to Jesus in a symbolic nakedness (Mk 10:50); and,
The Samaritan woman after her encounter with Jesus leaves her empty water jar at the feet of Jesus in a symbolic abandonment of her past (Jn 4:28).
A question that we can all ask ourselves then is: what is it that I am still holding on to – that prevents me from totally surrendering myself to God?