“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood” (Lk 21:3-4).
The biblical recommendation for giving is a tithe of our income, meaning ten per cent. We can see an example of this in the book of Genesis when Abraham offers a tithe of his possessions to the priest Melchizedek in thanksgiving to God for a successful battle through which he rescued his nephew Lot (cf. Genesis 28:20-22). Tithing was practiced consistently and this, or the giving of alms, was most likely what Jesus was observing at the temple.
The widow went further though than giving a simple tithe. Widows in Jesus’ time were often destitute and needed care and support from others. They were often recipients of alms. There was a long tradition in Judaism of the mandate to care for the widow and orphan. This widow, though giving a significantly smaller amount than the heftier donations before her, proportionally gave much more, indeed, “her whole livelihood.”
St. Mother Teresa understood these verses very well, especially after receiving her “second call” in which she left her Loretto Convent and went to serve among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Often in her talks she mentioned giving until it hurts, not from our surplus, but more like the widow. To her this was true giving.
One of the many examples Mother Teresa witnessed of this was when she gave a cup of rice to a poor Hindu family. The mother was very grateful for the gift and as soon as she received the rice, she went to her Muslim neighbors and gave them half of what she had received. Upon her return, the woman told Mother Teresa, “They are hungry too.”
What impressed Mother Teresa was not that the woman shared the meager amount that she received, she had observed the generosity of the poor often. She was touched by the fact that this woman was aware of the need. Mother’s charge to us is, “Are we aware?”
Are we willing to see the needs within our own family as well as beyond to the needs of others? Are we then willing to share? We do not need to share just monetarily. We can and ought to discern how we can share of our time, talent, and treasure.
Jesus’ observation and pointing out how the widow “gave more than all the rest” shows us how to participate in the kingdom of God. We are to recognize all that we have is a gift from God and all truly belongs to him. We are simply stewards of what he has given us. Remember the recent parables of the talents, the gold coins, and Matthew 25 – what you do to the least of my brothers, you do it to me?
Jesus, help us to be better stewards of our time, talent, and treasure so that all of our life is a participation in the building up of the kingdom of God. Let us, as St Mother Teresa shared, “give until it hurts with a smile” so we can experience the joy of sharing God’s love.
Photo of St. Mother Teresa that I took when I saw her in Massachusetts in the early 90’s.