“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." (Mark 12:43-44)
We are presented with two very generous widows in today’s readings who give from what they do not have. They are giving from a place of love because even in their poverty they see the need to help others. We must remember, as is pointed out when Jesus raised the son of the widow of Naim, that widows in Jesus’ time were particularly vulnerable to poverty because they did not have someone to provide for them. We constantly hear references in the Scriptures of the Lord favoring the “widow and the orphan” because they were the forgotten, the littlest among the people. In the first reading, a widow who had only enough to feed herself and her son was resigned to starving to death after she had prepared their last meal during a great famine. Yet this widow puts her trust in Elijah the prophet who promises that her jars of flour and oil would not go empty during the famine. She gives the prophet something to eat even if it meant that she and her son would possibly go without eating. She gave from what she did not have.
In the gospel, Jesus observes another widow giving “from her poverty.” She also was giving from what she did not have. Jesus points her out to the disciples after expressing his disappointment with the scribes for “devouring the houses of widows”. They gave from their surplus while the poor widow gave from what she did not have.
Both these widows show us how to love when we have nothing to give. So often we are called to perform acts of love when we literally have nothing to offer. I think of parents who get home tired after a long day at work, and they still find the energy to spend time with their children, cook them dinner, help them with their homework, play with them, bathe them and tuck them in. And this is what Pope Francis asked parents to do a couple of weeks ago when he told parent to “waste time with your children.” That may not sound very productive, but parenthood is not about productivity, it’s about love. I think of my sister who works tirelessly every day and I’ve seen her come and pick up my nephews at my parent’s house and think: “she and my brother in law have another five hours of parenting before they put them to bed.” Parents may be running on empty when they get home, but this is where the Lord works through them because they are sharing their love from a place of nothingness and vulnerability just like the widows. Yesterday, I was reading the commentary of Bishop Robert Barron on these readings and he said, “God reveals himself precisely at that moment of our greatest vulnerability and need.” He comes to our aid when we feel like we can’t go any further. It’s not just parents. It’s all of us. We are all called to love and to give of ourselves as Christians, and sometimes we are called to share this love in moments of great pain, suffering, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, etc. And this is where we need to trust God to take over for us. We may be running on empty and things may seem impossible, but we need to stop concentrating on the impossible and focus on what is possible for that is when the impossible becomes possible.
A small gesture of love, like the widow in the gospel, is enough to get the attention of Jesus. Sometimes in our weariness and out of our nothingness the Lord can work marvels through us if we let him. We have to trust him. Even though her life was in peril, the widow in the first reading trusted God. Even though she didn’t have a dime left, the widow in the gospel trusted God. When we are running on empty and have literally nothing to left to give, do we trust God enough to take over?