The contrast between the two scenes is complete. In the first one, Jesus puts the people on their guard concerning the temple Scribes. Their religion is false: they use it to seek their own glory and to exploit the weak. There’s no need to admire them or follow their example. In the second one, Jesus observes the deed of a poor widow, and calls his disciples’ attention to it. From this woman they can learn something that the Scribes would never teach them: a complete faith in God and a generosity without limits.
Jesus’ criticism of the Scribes is harsh. Instead of guiding the people toward God, seeking God’s glory, they draw the people’s attention to themselves, seeking their own honor. They like to «walk about in long robes», looking for greetings and respect from the people. In the synagogue liturgies and in the banquets, they seek «the front seats» and «the places of honor».
But without doubt there’s something more that grieves Jesus than this empty and immature behavior of being watched, greeted and respected. While they show a deep piety in their «long prayers» in public, they take advantage of their religious prestige to live off the widows, those who are the weakest and the most defenseless in Israel according to the biblical tradition.
Precisely on point, one of these widows makes evident the corrupt religion of these religious leaders. Her act has gone unnoticed by everyone, but not by Jesus. The poor woman has only put two small coins into the treasury box, but Jesus proceeds to call to his disciples, since it would be difficult to find in the temple environs a heart that is more religious and more in solidarity with those most in need.
This widow doesn’t go about seeking honor or any such prestige; she’s acting in a silent and humble way. She’s not thinking about exploiting anyone; on the contrary she gives everything she has because others might need it. According to Jesus she has given more than all the rest, since she doesn’t give from what she could spare, but «all she had to live on».
Make no mistake. These simple people who have great and generous hearts, who know how to love without holding back, they are the best our Church has to offer. They are the ones who make the world more human, who truly believe in God, who keep Jesus’ Spirit alive in the midst of other false and self-interested religious attitudes. From these people we need to learn to follow Jesus. They are the ones who are most like him.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf