In this week’s Gospel the poor widow’s two small coins give us a lesson in true generosity that has nothing to do with extravagance or with social position. Jesus has just finished warning his disciples against the scribes who live amid riches, honor and pride. He watches a poor widow who contributes more to the temple treasury than all the others. He says, the rich “have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
The action of the widow gives us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of generosity. First, generosity always costs the giver. Secondly, generosity honors God and displays by human action the very nature of God. When we are truly generous we are godlike.
Jesus points out that she contributed all she had. Her action manifests risk. Where will she get her next meal? What will she wear? How will she pay for her lodgings? In Jesus’ time widows without families to care for them were truly dispossessed. Jesus compliments her willingness to risk all to support God’s temple. Unlike the scribes who do everything for empty show, this poor widow understands that the most important action in life is to worship the one true God.
In our more reflective moments we realize that God has given us everything we have and are. When we give of our material goods, our talents and our time, we share as God shares with us. The widow looks at her two small coins as a gift from God and willingly returns this gift to the God she knows and loves. There is no showy pretense on her part, only a manifestation of love. She has contributed everything, her whole livelihood.
Do we have the generosity of the widow or are our acts of generosity meant to call attention to ourselves? How much of what we give is from our surplus? How many donations come from our desire to honor God who gives us everything? Granted, most people do not have vast amounts of material wealth, but what aspects of our life present opportunities for generosity?
No matter who we are we can find opportunities to be generous toward the needy. Many people in nursing homes have been abandoned by families and friends. We can be generous by sharing our smiles and friendliness with them. People need warm clothing during a Wisconsin winter. Perhaps there are sweaters, coats and boots we hardly use that will keep a child or adult safe from the severe weather. In the coming season of gift giving let us find a place in our hearts for those who have less. To be generous costs us something. Generosity also makes us similar to God who gives everything.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.