Trust or Exploitation?



Jesus’s comment upon the action of the widow in today’s Gospel can be understood in two ways. We can see him pointing to the widow’s action as an extreme example of generosity and trust in God. It is not the amount contributed that counts before God but the trust and self-giving it represents. While some give just what they have left over after making good allowance for their comfort, the widow gives everything. She becomes an example of faith to admire and possibly to emulate, according to our circumstance and calling.




The alternative is to see Jesus deploring rather than commending what is happening here. In the preceding scene Jesus has denounced the scribes for taking the places of honour at banquets (where they will be fed), while ‘swallowing the property of widow’. In the scene immediately following he foretells the destruction of the Temple to whose treasury the widow has contributed. This wider context suggests that Jesus interprets the widow’s act as an instance where religious law, as interpreted by the scribes, induces ‘little ones’, such as her, to contribute to the treasury far more than they can afford. The scene then becomes a warning against the way in which religion, falsely interpreted and promoted, can oppress rather than liberate the poor and vulnerable, for whose cause and whose life Christ shed his blood on the cross.

We do not necessarily have to choose between these two  interpretations; both are valid and valuable. We can admire the widow’s generosity and faith while remaining critical of the abuse of religion that drove her to it.

Brendan Byrne, SJ