On the Widow’s Mite
(1Kgs.17:10-16; Heb.9:24-28; Mk.12:38-44)
I once knew a man, a politician, who liked to promote himself. Every week he’d always arrive late for Mass with his large family in tow. Making a grand entrance, he’d walk to the front of the church, look around, and sit down.
It wasn’t long before other churchgoers asked themselves: was he honouring God or himself? Was he looking for faith or votes?
Something similar happens in Mark’s Gospel today. Jesus warns his followers to beware of the scribes in the Temple. These men like to strut around in fine clothes, greeting people and taking the best seats in the synagogue. They like to parade their wealth and importance.
But Mark then contrasts this life of pride and selfishness with another story, about a poor widow. She quietly donates to the Temple two tiny copper coins, each smaller than a fingertip. (These coins are often called Mites today, but in ancient Israel they were known as Lepta). [i]
Two mites were enough to buy two sparrows (Mt.10:29).
It’s not much, but Jesus says her gift is the greatest of all because it’s all she had. This is a real sacrifice, compared to the wealthy who only give from their surplus.
This widow’s tale is the last story from Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s Gospel, before he begins his passion. It’s significant, because it summarises all Jesus has been trying to teach us about following him.
This widow represents Christ himself, because soon afterwards Jesus does the very same thing. He gives up everything he has – his whole life – for the people he loves: you and me. So, this widow is an icon of Christ, a living image of Jesus himself.
Her two coins represent the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbour, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. This is the selfless sacrifice we’re all called to make.
But can we do it? Can we let go of our worldly attachments and open ourselves up to the life of Jesus Christ?
Someone once said that if we want God’s kingdom to come, then we need to let go of our own personal kingdoms.
Let me tell you of three people who did just that.
The first is St Elizabeth of Hungary. She was a princess, born in 1207 to the King of Hungary. At the age of 14 she married a German count and they had three children. She was wealthy, but she insisted on living a simple, humble life, just like Jesus and St Francis of Assisi.
She gave food to the poor. She built hospitals and worked in them. She helped a leper colony, and when she ran out of money, she sold her jewellery and gowns and dressed as a commoner. She gave up everything to help others and, at the age of 24, she died. [ii]
The second person who learnt to let go is an American, Tom Monaghan, born in 1937. His father died when he was four. His mother was so poor that she put him and his brother into a foster home. When he was 23, he bought a pizzeria and called it Domino’s. He grew the business, became enormously rich and lived a lavish lifestyle.
Then, one day he read C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. One chapter, especially, changed his life. It was Chapter 8, which is all about pride. In 1998 he sold Domino’s Pizza for $1 billion and he decided to devote his life and fortune to helping the Church.
Since then, he has built many schools, a cathedral in Nicaragua, Ave Maria University in Florida and the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan. He has established radio stations and newspapers and many other charities and projects supporting Catholic education and values. [iii]
Monaghan says his goal is to help as many people as possible to get to heaven.
The third person who learnt to let go is Margaret, an ordinary woman I met some years ago. She, too, is a widow. She’s not rich, either, but she is utterly devoted to sponsoring poor African children. Every time she has a spare $20, she sends it to the Missions in Africa. So far, she has sponsored dozens of children. That’s her life’s work. She is like the poor widow in today’s Gospel.
We all have something to offer, even if it’s only a widow’s mite.
We’re not meant to live our lives for ourselves. We’re all meant to live for others, in a spirit of great generosity and love.
Doing whatever we can.
[i] Each Lepton was worth 1/64 of a denarius, which was the daily wage of a common worker.