The Widow’s Mite
In today’s gospel reading, we hear the familiar story of the widow who places two mites － small Jewish coins worth only a few cents － into the treasury while others donate much larger sums. For many people, it simply presents a lesson about the relative value of a gift versus its absolute value. But for others, the parable of the widow’s mite presents a difficult challenge concerning not only the use of personal wealth, but also the use of the wealth possessed by the nation as a whole.
The Value of a Gift
Jesus told his disciples that the widow’s gift was more valuable than the much larger sums donated by others because she gave from her want, not from her excess. In other words, she didn’t give money from what she had left over, she gave money before she took care of all her own needs and desires. The rich people, on the other hand, made sure they provided for themselves lavishly and then gave a portion of what was left. In essence, there was no sacrifice involved in what the rich people gave, while the widow could very well have been sacrificing her next meal or two.
One year, a friend of mine had very little money for Christmas presents, so she shopped for fabrics on sale and sewed gifts for most of the people on her list. For example, she made a set of curtains for her daughter. That same year, I had another friend who spent hundreds of dollars to buy her son a new laptop computer because the one he had wasn’t powerful enough. Which gift was more valuable － the set of hand-made curtains, or the laptop computer?
Based upon the parable of the widow’s mite, I’d say that the curtains are the more valuable gift. My friend needed to work extra hours just to afford the fabric, and then she spent time actually sewing the curtains herself. The absolute value － the market value － was far less than the laptop but she definitely gave from her want, not her excess.
America, the Pharisee?
For many people, the parable of the widow’s mite poses a more difficult challenge when applied on a larger scale. As Americans, we often speak proudly of the fact that our nation offers so much “aid” to poverty-stricken third-world countries. As Christians, we are pleased by this because it makes us feel benevolent and generous. It makes us feel that, at least in some regards, we are doing some good in the world.
On the one hand, the aid that we provide is certainly needed. Whether it is food, medicine, clothing, housing, or any number of other things, there is no doubt that people require the assistance.
On the other hand, the aid that the United States provides, as a percentage of our Gross National Product (GNP), is tiny compared to what is being provided by many other, poorer countries. So as a nation, we are not giving from our want. We are giving from our excess, which is something that Jesus warned against. And if we really stop to think about it, is it something we should be proud of? Can we comfortably say that it is in-line with our Catholic teachings concerning the poor?
Perhaps we should view this gospel story as a challenge to the status quo － a call for us, as a nation, to be more like the widow and less like the Pharisees. There is a personal lesson here as well, but it’s time for us to recognize that we are also responsible to our “neighbors” on a much grander scale.
Have you ever had to struggle to pay for gifts?
When you donate money to your church or charities, do you give from your poverty or from your excess?
What else can you give besides money?
Copyright 2006-2018 by Brandon Jubar
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