Giving up everything for God
A Reflection for Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Lk 21:3-4)
Today’s Gospel finds Jesus at the temple. He watches as the wealthy gather to bring their offerings to the “treasury,” which refers to thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles scattered around the Temple’s Court of the Women. Jesus sees rich people give their offerings (the account in Mk 12:41-44 specifies that many put in large sums of money). Then, he watches as a poor widow offers two coins, “her whole livelihood,” which would have been a fraction of a day laborer’s earnings.
The Hebrew Bible is scattered with calls to care for the widow, the orphan and the sojourner. God maintains a preferential option for his beloved poor, his anawim: “If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry” (Ex 22:23). They were often among the poorest of the poor and “dependent on the good will of others because of the social structure” in Ancient Israel, according to Old Testament scholar Donald E. Gowan. Widows, orphans, and sojourners are singled out among the poor for their lack of social status—they were uniquely vulnerable, and thus, deserved special attention.
Despite her vulnerability, this widow gives her entire livelihood to God. Jesus commends her faith and generosity: “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest.” God is not concerned with the price of what we give—what could any of us possibly give to God that he lacks? It does not matter how impressive the offering is. God wants abundant self-gift rather than material abundance without spiritual commitment.
God wants all that we have. This is a terrifying thing.
The widow embodies what is ultimately an Ignatian impulse. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatius specifies that love is shown more in deeds than in words, and that love consists of a mutual exchange of goods. Those reflecting with the Exercises are then told to contemplate all that God has given to them and consider what they should give to God in return. Such contemplation should move retreatants to make an offering of themselves:
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, O Lord, I return it. All is yours, dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for this is sufficient for me” (Spiritual Exercises, No. 234)
God wants all that we have. This is a terrifying thing. When I read passages like this, I wonder if I would ever have the courage to give up everything for God. I like to believe that I orient my life in service to God, but am I more like the rich people at the temple who give what is comfortable? Do I have the strength to be more like the widow?
The widow gives her two coins in the knowledge that they were God’s in the first place. Nothing is ours—not primarily, at least. It’s all a gift, a sign of God’s abundant love, and so it should all be given back in a mutual exchange. This is what love is, for Ignatius. The widow who gives “from her poverty” provides a radical example of this kind of love and trust in God. She knows that she is vulnerable, but she also knows that God will surely listen to her cry.