Gospel: Mark 12: 38-44
As Jesus taught, he said,
‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places,
and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets!
They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
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.
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.’
We hear the phrase “the widow’s mite”, but it is becoming rather an old-fashioned phrase. The widow – like the beggar, Bartimaeus and others in the gospels who struggle in life – is not someone we should idolise but someone who should challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. Maybe we find it easier to have the phrase “the widow’s mite” as a rather lovely saying as it takes the sting from the passage.
The widow is poor, desperately poor, not least because, as Jesus has said in the previous verses the powerful devour widow’s houses, that is they extort the poor, they drive the poor from their dwellings, as do unscrupulous landlords, as does the Israeli state with Palestinians whose only “crime” is to live on land that the state wishes to appropriate.
There are some who make large donations and they are not condemned for this; what is condemned is the practice of making wealth at the expense of others, benefiting from the work of others without due recompense. Two copper coins was a pathetically small amount. It was 1/64th of a man’s hoped for daily wage, but women were often paid only half that. it is such a small amount, yet she gave all she had, which was so little.
Some questions this text might ask us:
- How much do we give to the church and to God? Are we generous to God?
- How much do we care about economic injustice? Do we seek to shop ethically?
- Do we support charities and help be a voice for Fair-Trade, for Trade Justice, for Climate Justice? We may feel our voice is weak but if it is joined with others it will make a difference.
May this amazing and courageous woman challenge and inspire us today.
Rev’d Peter Reiss