Jesus was once again in the Temple during that Holy Week. He was sitting and watching people tossing their offerings into large brass horn-shaped collection containers. That Jesus was actually seated there in the Temple is certainly a contrast from his Galilean ministry where he seemed always to be on the move—along the Way, entering and leaving towns and villages. No time for sitting back there in Galilee except when Jesus taught the disciples about the first being last and becoming servants of all. And now up in Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus sat on a donkey when he entered the Holy City on Palm Sunday, but St. Mark makes no other comment about Jesus being seated in his entire Gospel! It is especially odd here in this location; for the most part sitting was strictly forbidden in the Temple. Only God was imagined as sitting here, enthroned in the Holy of Holies. So Jesus is sitting in the Temple near the treasury where the offerings are made. He sat down for a time, watched, and listened to all the noise and clamber of the crowds.
Jesus observed how the crowd cast money into the treasury, a noisy action as the big coins of silver and gold hit the brass receptacles and spun down into the collection boxes. Part of the action was the sound of Temple officials shouting out the amounts of money cast by those making their Temple tax payments (and the hubbub of those in the crowd who stood nearby commenting on the amount of the payments). It was an effective and efficient way to collect money there in the Temple. (Only our recent use of ticket scanners at a stadium event outdoes the system there in the Temple.) St. Mark then notes that many rich people put in large sums at the voluntary offering receptacles. They continued in this activity, perhaps drawing attention to themselves in some cases or engaging in a kind of “noisy offering competition.” (Whose offering would make the loudest sound as it clattered into the boxes?) Also making an offering, Jesus observed, was a poor widow who came and cast in two tiny coins--the smallest coins in circulation. You have to wonder how Jesus heard the sound of those two miniscule coins as they tinkled down the brass receptacle. St. Mark, though, shares that he did take notice and that this meager offering consisted of all that the widow had. Two huge contrasts have erupted into the scene. On one hand, there are “many” rich who are engaged in this offering ritual. On the other hand, Jesus watches as this solitary widow casts in her two small coins. A second contrast—beyond that of the many and the one--is also seen by our Lord. A huge amount of money is being cast into the treasury by the many rich people while the widow casts in her offering what appears to be totally insignificant. We combine such loose change and give it to a cashier to be put in a little bowl for anyone else to use. “Who wants to carry around pennies anymore?” we think. So the “many” and the “one.” The numerous rich folks are watched by Jesus as they make their offerings and the Lord also focuses his sight on the “one” poor widow. (Another contrast can be made by those with eyes to see. The rich are all men while this poor widow has
lost her husband to death.) On this day in the Temple, the poor widow is in the bottom “one percent,” in her solitary and seemingly irrelevant action. The contrasts are expressed through the sounds. The clatter of the big coins along with the approving chatter of the crowds and the slight tinkle of the two little coins. Jesus sits there in the Temple, watching and hearing it all.
At this point, Jesus summons his disciples. He turns them from the spectacle to himself. “Amen, I say to you…,” Jesus begins. And whenever the disciples hear Jesus speaking to them in this way they know that what will be said will contradict or overturn their conventional understanding of matters of heaven and earth. They are going to hear a statement about the reign of God or some important saying about discipleship. A paradox, even. So they listen to what Jesus has to say; we listen along as well. “Amen, I say to you,” Jesus begins, “this poor widow has put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” Jesus’ words are emphatic: “This widow, this one, this poor one!” And now the great paradox: She has “put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” She has exceeded not only the offerings of the many rich, but of everyone who makes an offering. They have all contributed out of their surplus wealth, their “superfluity” we might say. Their offerings were from what remained after all of their needs were attended to. After consuming all that they desired in life, they gave out of their surplus. Now comes the paradox. This widow, Jesus proclaims, has contributed out of her poverty all she had. And we wonder, if this was the case, why didn’t she give one of the two coins, saving the other to buy herself a meager meal at the end of the day? It is now clear that they were her only means of sustenance. But she did not withhold anything. Both little coins went tinkling down the brass collection boxes. Suffering the loss of her husband, and therefore of any continuing support, she now flings away her last resource. She gives out of her poverty and now she is totally impoverished. Pope Francis likens the church to this poor widow. When the church becomes widow-like and becomes the poor church, she is “a mystery like that of the moon,”1 reflecting Christ’s glorious light. Francis adds, “when the Church wanted to have her own light, she was wrong.”2 So see this image of the church. The poor widow who, from her poverty, has given all that she had.
Jesus now underscores the poverty of this widow there in the Temple. She has given “her whole .livelihood.” But there is another meaning to what Jesus is proclaiming here. We can also hear, “She has given all her life.” Of course, thinking about her situation economically, by casting both of those little coins into the treasury, all she had, she was throwing her whole life into that offering receptacle. This widow, this poor one, casts her entire life on God, making an offering fit for the glory of God. For St. Mark, this is what the life of a disciple of Jesus is all about. Giving all our life to God. For some the Holy Spirit comes to beckon and persuade giving all one’s life to the call to become a priest, or deacon, or to enter into a religious order. These vocations do involve giving all one’s life to God. But in the Gospel of St. Mark, this summons comes to all the baptized. Jesus summons all of us to attend to this poor widow and listen to his words. Here’s the contrast. On one hand, we could offer good words and actions to God but in ways that remain self-centered. On the other hand, as with the poor widow’s giving, God remains at the center, for each of us and for us together as Christ’s Body, the church. [The preacher may wish to add references to various mission or servant ministries of the parish or the archdiocese.] Now we become that “mystery like the moon” that the Holy Father spoke about—reflecting the light of the sun, the only Son Jesus Christ. “Livelihood” or “whole life”? In this story, the correct answer is “all of the above.” Just like the devotion of this poor widow.
Recall now, that St. Mark tells us this story of Jesus in the Temple during Holy Week as the hours click down towards his arrest, suffering, and death on a Cross. With this broader scope of the story in mind, it is clear that St. Mark does not give us this account of Jesus’ last hours in the Temple as a brief pause in the action that leads to the Cross. It is not even a Bible text to be pulled out every fall on “Stewardship Sunday” before the pledges for next year are received. Instead, what we are seeing and hearing here in the Temple is an image that prefigures Jesus’ own giving of “all his life.” This story is woven into St. Mark’s entire Gospel, and it is woven into the very fabric of our lives and our life together in Christ.
1 Pope Francis, “Where the Light Comes From,” Morning Meditation in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, November 28, 2014, accessed October 27, 2021, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/cotidie/2014/documents/papa-francesco-cotidie_20141124_where-the-light-comes-from.html.