Gospel Mk 12:38-44
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “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.”
At Mass today, we heard this Gospel passage of the “widow’s mite.” The mite was the smallest of Roman coins. This widow had just two of these small coins, today worth less than a penny, and she gave them to God. Jesus says of her contribution, “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.”
This Gospel passage is not about currency or donations – it’s about trust. This woman trusted God with everything she had. To be a widow during that time period, was to be in a very vulnerable position, especially economically. At that time, women were generally financially cared for by men. Usually, to become a widow and remain unmarried meant a lifetime sentence of destitution. She would have had very little opportunity to make her own money, and if she did have some skill or handiwork, she would still be able to earn only very small amounts of money without a man to represent her in business interactions. It took a lot of courage to donate all of her money. Her donation belied her deep trust in God. This was a woman who was completely confident that God would provide.
Every time I hear this passage, it reminds me of the first time I completely trusted God myself. One day, when I was in grad school, I did what she did. I wasn’t thinking of the “widow’s mite” passage. It wasn’t even in the corner of my mind. I just needed a miracle.
I had five dollars. It was July. I had just paid my very first rental payment on my off-campus housing and I didn’t have a job yet. I had no financial resources. My car had broken down. I had no money to fix it.
So, I had five dollars to buy food for the whole week. I knew I could buy a pack of frozen bagels, a dozen eggs, and some cheese with this five dollars. I knew this because I had been surviving on this budget and this food for over a month.
I needed a job. I had applied to various positions that would fit my graduate student schedule but hadn’t heard back from any yet. So, I went to Mass to ask God for help.
As I went to put my money into the collection basket, I looked at my $5 dollars, surrounded by $20’s and hesitated a brief moment.
I thought to myself, “Look at all of those $20’s. What difference will my measly $5 make anyway?”
I dropped the $5 bill into the basket.
I prayed, “Lord, I’m taking a leap of faith here. I’m trusting you to provide. If you don’t, I won’t have any food at all. I’m hungry now but, without this five dollars, I will starve. You know I love you, Lord, and you know I trust you. Please help me.”
At that moment, I literally “didn’t have a dime” to my name.
I walked out of Mass and waited for the phone to ring.
It did. In fact, it rang three times that afternoon. Three interviews. I remember being downright giddy – not because I had interviews, that was definitely nice – but even moreso because I knew God had actually heard my prayer!
By the end of that week, I had a job that paid well, offered a flexible schedule, and I had great new co-workers! I would stay at that job throughout my two coursework years.
My prayer was answered on that day – when I trusted God with everything I had.
That was nearly twenty years ago. Every time I’m up against the wall, I still have to remind myself that He will provide – but I have to let go of what I’m holding onto first. I have to make the jump. I have to really, really trust God. I’ve learned that as long as I’m “playing it safe” and still holding onto something it just doesn’t work. I can’t hold anything back – it’s gotta be an “all in” gesture. Every single time I do this, every time I trust God completely, He provides.
And, every time, He provides more than I could hope for – way more.
The widow knew this secret. The power is not in grasping on, clutching tightly to that which we have, but in letting go of everything and handing it over to God.
Trusting God – it’s terrifying and it’s thrilling – and you can’t get a better deal.
“Take Lord Receive” – John Foley, SJ