Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
“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.”
Jesus in his discussion contrasts the Scribes with an impoverished widow and they are two people who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Scribes were in the employ of the Temple, were among the most educated of the day, and were held in somewhat high social esteem. A poor widow would have lived at the mercy of others.One comparison between these two can be taken at the difference in wealth and with that the number of coins each contributed to the temple. The Scribes, being at an economic advantage, could have tossed quite a few coins into the collection, and the spectacle would have been noticeable and extravagant in the eyes of the impoverished masses; yet their contribution might have been only a small amount of their wage. Their flamboyant contribution could in reality be paltry, or in spiritual terms flamboyant yet insincere. The poor woman’s contribution could only be one of sincerity, to put in even one coin was extravagantly beyond her means. While man might notice the flamboyance of the Scribe and miss the insincerity that might accompany it, God is not impressed by the flamboyant showmanship yet will not be slighted. God demands your whole livelihood. Just as the Scribes flamboyance was not their error, the widows poverty was not her virtue. The virtue was the total commitment, and the sin was a disingenuous commitment towards God.
Just as the coins could be used to illustrate an approach towards God, a comparison can also be drawn from the Scribes profession. Just as the Scribe contributed many coins to the temple, by the nature of their job they also contributed many words. They made their living by transcribing words, but by transcribing and writing words are they examples of virtue?Is the ability to read and write a gospel an indication of faithful example? While these skills don’t prevent someone from leading a devout life they also are no indication that someone is a faithful guide; yet many times people look towards these outward appearances as an example to follow, and they follow down the wrong path. The poor woman had no expectations that someone would follow her, she had no expectations Jesus would point to her as a guide. Her faith was not guided by those who follow her, it was part of her. Jesus comments was not a curse against a Scribe for being educated or wealthy and likewise he did not bless the widows poverty. It was an effort to get his disciples to look past social rank as a measure of faith, or as a measure of value, or merit; it was an effort to get them to value a persons actions as much as rank or privilege. Society did (and does) have a complex hierarchy to characterize people, and the common misconception was (and is) that a persons place in that hierarchy indicated a persons value in the eyes of their fellow citizens and in the eyes of God. The truth though is that this should not be a measure of a persons value by people, and is not the measure of a persons value by God.