The Widow’s Choice

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November 8, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

November 8, 2015
Mark 12:38-44
Fr. George Smiga

There is an issue to be resolved in today’s gospel. Jesus clearly says that a poor widow put more into the temple treasury than anyone else because of her extreme sacrifice. The few coins that she placed in the treasury were all that she had to live on. Now there is no denying the widow’s sacrifice. But here is the issue we must decide: Did Jesus praise her action or lament it? Did Jesus see her donation to the treasury as a good thing or as a misguided choice? I would suggest to you that Jesus saw it as a misguided choice. I believe that he, like us, would conclude that a woman who was so poor should keep what she had for herself and her children rather than giving to the temple treasury.

Moreover, the fact that this woman gave all that she had to the treasury might well indicate that some people were pressuring her to do so. Those she trusted and respected were calling on her to give her entire livelihood. Who might these people be? The first part of today’s gospel makes that clear. Jesus criticizes the scribes who seek their own honor and devour the homes of widows. Jesus is criticizing the scribes because they are using their position of authority for their own gain rather than the service of others. This poor widow becomes a victim of their advice and gives away all that she has. Jesus laments her decision.

When we look at the gospel from this perspective, it becomes an admonition to us to make our choices carefully, to discern honestly what God is calling us to do in every situation. God has given to each one of us free will and the obligation to form our conscience wisely. Of course, as we form our conscience, we should be attentive to those who have expertise and those who have authority. But, we must also discern in each circumstance, in what way and to what extent what others say is God’s will for us.

This is a useful reminder as we face another year of presidential campaigning. We have to listen to the candidates, to what they say and what they promise— realizing that those who speak the loudest or have the highest poll numbers might not be the best choice. We must discern which candidates would be most effective in achieving the common good for our country.

This applies as well to our church. Those in religious authority should be respected, but they are not perfect. Pope Francis, on many occasions, has criticized fellow bishops and priests for their desire to achieve power rather than service. So we must carefully listen to what our religious leaders say and what they do and then discern what God is calling us to do.

This has relevance as well to our personal relationships. It is right that we honor our parents, our siblings, and our friends. We want to please them. But when they tell us, “This is what I expect you to do. Don’t ever consider that. Agree with me or else,” we have to discern what is possible and what is right, and then set our course accordingly.

God has given to each one of us the right and the obligation to form our conscience correctly. In doing so, we must be attentive to those we love and to those that have authority over us. But we can never abdicate our choices to them. In each circumstance, we have to discern what God is calling us to do. If the widow in today’s gosple had claimed that freedom, she might have chosen differently. She might have said, “I honor the scribes, and I love God’s holy temple, but I will not donate to the temple treasury. I will use these two small coins to keep myself and my children alive.”

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