Jesus gives the privileged religious of his day, the folks in the cool robes who get to sit up front and get lots of extra stuff because of their special-ness - well, Jesus gives them a great big verbal smack down – they are attention-seeking, cruel, and unmindful. They oppress the widows, the very people they are charged to protect, because in that time, the widow was defenseless. In fact, the word for "widow" in Hebrew carries the meaning of one who is silent, who is unable to speak.
She is one of the invisible . . . and yet, Jesus sees her. . . notices her . . .
In Jesus’ time, women, and especially widows, were invisible in the public sphere. They were silent and silenced. This, then, is the story of the invisible among us.
The traditional understanding is that Jesus is complimenting the widow woman for her generosity, giving, as she does, so sacrificially. And it is often a text preached during the time of stewardship in the church.
With this understanding, the widow in Mark can be contrasted with the widow who meets Elijah in 1 Kings. Elijah’s widow is given a promise of immediate help and reward if she will be generous with the prophet. But there is no reward for the widow of Mark. Uncomfortable with this, some have opined that she knew she had a greater heavenly reward. But the text does not say that she knew anything of the kind. To think otherwise smacks of sentimental wishful thinking. But Jesus speaks about her and Mark tells her story for a reason.
Is the reason to contrast her actions to those of the scribes and Pharisees of her day? Probably. Is the reason for the contrast, simply put, to say that they are bad and she is good? That certainly is the traditional view.
Author John J. Pilch of Georgetown University has a startlingly different view of the widow’s actions and Jesus’ words in reaction: “Jesus' comment on the widow's donation is not a word of praise but rather a word of lament: "Truly I say to you this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living" (Mark 12:43-44).
“Jesus does not praise but rather laments this woman's behavior”, Pilch goes on to say. “She has been taught sacrificial giving by her religious leaders, and that is the pity. These authorities promised to redistribute Temple collections to the needy. In actuality, they spent the funds on conspicuous consumption instead: long robes and banquets. This is how they devoured the estates of widows.”
Pilch challenges us to understand that Jesus is not calling us to give to God even to the extent of our own starvation. Yes, we are called to live sacrificially, to understand giving as costly, to challenge and to be challenged in our Christian walk, and even to take risks that might involve our very lives. But those challenges are not to be done for their own sake. Rather we are to live and give redemptively. We are called to honor and glorify God, not to shame him, as if we worshipped a God who requires the food from our mouths.
The shame was not in the giving, but in the teaching that such giving was sought or required by the love-giving, life-saving God we worship.
The shame was and is in requiring everything from those with nothing.
The shame was and is in not even seeing her, let alone seeing her need.
The shame was and is in seeing through the eyes of humanity and not through the eyes of God.
In our world today, there are many who are invisible to us. We know of them, even if we do not know them. And sometimes, we ourselves are the invisible ones, walking past people we have known for years, people who see us so often they do not see us at all.
With whose eyes do we see? Through whose eyes are we seen?
Our own? Or God’s?
Seeing with and through the eyes of God means that no one is invisible.
Seeing with and through the eyes of God means there is no question of merit – no such thing as the ‘deserving’ versus the ‘undeserving’ poor. Seeing with and through the eyes of God means that everybody matters . . . everybody.
Seeing with and through the eyes of God means that just being is asking enough.
Seeing with and through the eyes of God means that the widows among us are honored and loved and cared for, not ignored or disappeared.
Seeing with and through the eyes of God means that those in need do not have to ask.
Copyright © 1996 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321.