Our gospel is known as the story of the Widow’s Mite. As you just heard, a widow donates two small coins, while wealthy people donate much more. A common explanation of the story is that Jesus praises the poor widow and holds her up as an example to us all because she gave “her whole livelihood.” So even though the rich people gave more, it was just for show and only from their chump change. Not the widow, she is “all in” in what she gives to God. The moral of the story is that small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant donations of the rich. And so I could have a seat at this point, leave you to think about your weekly offering, your APA pledge… are you giving chump change, or are your contributing your whole livelihood? I could (hey I just did!) but there is more here than meets the eye.
We know we are called to be good stewards of our talents, time, and treasure, but how many of us will make the contribution to God that is “all in” as does the poor widow. I know that in all my years sitting in the pew, when the priest takes his route in his homily, I think – “Geez, I can never like up to that example” and then at some point, “Geez, what kind of God wants that? Is that being a good steward? Maybe those are her last two coins. She is all in, but where is her prophet Elijah who will come to her and promise it will be alright….” In other words, I have not always been inspired to be more generous and sometimes end up grousing about what God expects of me – or what the pastor wants.
But then, it is years later and I have had more time to sit with this simple passage. Here is a question for you. I am pretty sure that the rich people did not notice as they flamboyantly gave their offerings to the Temple. But if the disciples had been in the Temple on their own, not in the presence of Jesus, do you think they would have noticed the poor widow putting in her small coins in to the Temple treasury? They have been with Jesus for three years and how many times has he taught them about love of neighbor, reaching out to the margins of life, taking care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger? In the very next verse after our Gospel, the disciples make it clear they are more interested in the magnificence of the Temple (Mark 13:1). As for me, I don’t think they would have noticed. But Jesus noticed: “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.”
Here’s another question: How did you hear Jesus’ description of the poor widow’s offering – is it praise or lament? Let me suggest to you that it is a lament addressed to the disciples and to the Temple system in Jerusalem. A lament that no one notices the poor widow, no one works to lift her burden, to lift her up, and no one is her Elijah. We are too attentive to the bright, shiny things that surround us. I think Jesus’ words are a lament that we do not see with the eyes of God.
Pope Francis has announced a Year of Mercy that begins next month. It is church-wide celebration and reflection on God’s mercy and the need for us to be sources of that Mercy in the world. The Year of Mercy has a logo. It is oddly shaped – kinda’ looks like an almond – which is intentional. Turns out, the almond shape, called a mandorla, was a staple of early and medieval iconography. It calls to mind the two natures of Christ, divine and human. The logo also shows Jesus carrying a man on his shoulders (like the lost sheep now found? Like the victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan?) I think Jesus is portrayed as the Good Shepherd comes to rescue us in the love and mercy of God.
If you continue to reflect upon the logo, another striking feature emerges: it seems as though Jesus and the man (over his shoulders) are sharing one eye – turns out it was the artist’s intention. Think about it. It says that, in his great mercy, as the Good Shepherd takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of man and woman. Christ sees with our eyes so that we might be able to see with His. He lives our life, feels with our senses, and sees with our eyes that each of us might discover in Christ the true calling of our own humanity. Also, in this shared vision to see the future that lies ahead: the love of the Father. We get to have our eyes on the prize, even as we see what Christ sees in the world.
I think the good news of this passage comes in what it says about the God we worship, the God we confess Jesus reveals most clearly. This God notices the poor widow, sees her plight and recognizes her affliction. This God will not countenance such abuse –especially under the guise of religious piety – and so Jesus laments those who would order their world and religion to make her sacrifices necessary yet unnoticed.
Just like in the logo of the Year of Mercy, I think God is inviting us to look around and see each other, those in our community we know and those we don’t. The ones no one notices; not just to see them but to gaze upon them with the eyes of Mercy.
We live in a world of bright shiny things that easily draw our attention – and some of those things are good, holy, and true. But we live in a world that needs people to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). For that we need to see with the eye of Christ.
Here is the last question, the one I will leave you with – and maybe it’s the hardest. What do you need to do, what are you willing to do, what will you do, in learn to see the world with the shared eyes of our Lord? We are called to the Year of Mercy. We are called to the Life of Mercy. We are called to notice.