We are coming to the end of the liturgical year, with only a few weeks left. This year our prime Gospel is Mark, the first one written. It is also the shortest of the four. I often refer to it as the bare bones Gospel. Mark reveals the basic story and we have to add all the other details.
So with that in mind, let us look at this Gospel passage and see it for what it is. We can imagine Jesus and his apostles standing off to the side as they see various people enter the Temple. They see what they are putting into the coffers. Jesus rightly mentions that many are making a show of it and making it appear they are deeply dedicated to the temple, the Jewish faith, community and especially to YAHWEH.
When this widow puts her two mites in, she probably is lost in the crowd, hiding in plain sight. Jesus points her out to the apostles, who probably would otherwise never see her.
Her act is humble, simple and takes literally maybe three seconds or less. She may use her hand to hide the mites so that few will see what little she puts in, in light of what others contribute. The widow may even embarrassed on her part that she is contributing so little compared to David. There he is coming up all dressed in fine linen. He drops his quite generous contribution, putting in the equivalent of a whole week’s wages for one of his workers on his farm. That is a great blessing to the Temple of course. Where would we be without David? In fact, he is a great contributor to many causes in the Jewish community here in Jerusalem.
However this elderly widow who contributed to the temple for her whole life, just prayerfully not only gives what she does, but it is more than she should. No one notices and no one cares. I mean with her small contribution we cannot even buy one candle per year for the temple.
Jesus who is reading the heart explains that she literally sacrificed everything she has for everything she believes in when she attends the temple. It is so much that St. John Chrysostom warns that we should note her contribution but not imitate it. He warns we must never give from what we need.
Jesus is leading us to understand her actions not only as a reflection of her belief in God, but also a reflection on her understanding. She knows to the depths of her heart there is more wisdom in one scroll of the Hebrew Scriptures than in all of Roman political writings. Remember, Jesus is the truth, but Pilate had no idea what truth is, even though truth was standing right in front of him.
The widow understands the scriptures radiate divine wisdom far beyond anything found in the Roman political writings. So her contribution also reflects her understanding and humble belief in every jot and tittle.
Although as a woman, she is not allowed to study the scriptures, she is familiar with them. She knows the story of the Maccabees when the Seleucid monarchy took human wisdom to be greater than divine wisdom and decided all of empire would embrace a humanized understanding of philosophy. She knew of those who refused to submit to secularization of the Hebrew faith and even stood up to the forces who demanded it at the risk of torture and death. Some of those who promoted this secularization were once brother and sisters in their Hebrew faith who saw political expediency in rejecting the standards of Jewish law.
She knew that this simple sacrifice offered on the altar has little international significance whether it goes on or not, but on the other hand that sacrifice in the long term has a powerful impact on humanity.
She recognized that she is a member of the people of God and did her small part to live as a daughter of God.
Before she was a widow, she and her husband made sure that their children followed all the laws of the temple because they understood that they were powerful rules that seemed so benign sometimes burdensome, but they were like the mechanics of evolution relatively small that over time bringing intense changes to the whole human race and human existence.
In fact, some of the richest men and women did not have the understanding that she did and they had faith, but not to the depth that she did.
The neighborhood women knew that the rabbi had many answers to their questions for they studied much in rabbinical school, but they actually went to this woman for the most sound advice. She knew at a deeper level than even the rabbis who served the temple.
This is the picture that Jesus paints of the faithful woman and her faith.
Today, we no longer follow Jewish law and have not since the council of Jerusalem in the 50 A.D. The wisdom behind the law is no longer expressed in Catholic circles through external actions of the law, but in internal and external daily actions of our faith.
When you walk into that Church, do you realize what you are saying to the rest of the world. There are many who will see you enter the Church while reading the sports pages in the Boston Globe and still wonder what is so important of the morning mass.
When you come to communion that action of getting out of your seat and walking to the altar to receive the Eucharist is an action so powerful that some regimes would force you out of your job, if you received the Eucharist.
In the Soviet Union, many of those who went to Mass on Sunday were KGB agents taking note of who received the Eucharist and who did not. It was so revolutionary under Soviet rule to receive the Eucharist. This is why the Chinese have underground churches to hide from the government officials who is attending Mass, who is receiving the Eucharist.
Do you realize the powerful act you make by attending Mass, by receiving the Eucharist and by praying daily?
The woman understood how powerful her devotion was and more so than so many more who offered so much more financially than she did. But she understood her simple act, her simple presence, her simple contribution is where the manifestation of the power of God begins.
This homily was delivered in English and Portuguese at St. Anthony Parish in Allston, MA