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A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 12:38-44
Jesus taught his disciples and said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”


Jesus chose unlikely role models for his disciples to emulate. In a society where children are regarded as the property of their fathers, with no rights or a voice of their own, Jesus pointed to a child and claimed that the kingdom of God belongs to ‘such as these.’ Today the unlikely role models in our liturgy are two widows.
In Ireland today, a widow is a woman whose husband has died. As her husband’s equal partner, she generally inherits his estate. Although her days may be lonely, she is not defenceless, nor has she lost any rights or status in the absence of her spouse. She also enjoys the widow’s state pension. However, Jewish widows in Jesus’ day were far less fortunate. When her husband died she had no rights or status of her own. She could even be sold into slavery to pay any outstanding debts. Given her precarious status, it is not surprising that the Hebrew word for a widow means somebody who is ‘unable to speak’ or in Aramaic (Jesus’ native language) ‘to be in pain’. The widow was the silent helpless one whose lack of legal status left her exposed to oppression and harsh treatment.
The scripture authors have set before us today two widows whose courage in the face of difficulty challenges our own behaviour as Jesus’ followers. Neither the widow who offered hospitality to Eiljah (First Reading) nor the widow who gave all she had to the temple treasury (Gospel) could be described as prudent. A prudent person would say that ‘charity begins at home’, so the first widow could have turned Elijah away in order to take care of herself and her son, instead of using all her oil and flour to make a meal for a stranger and a foreigner at that. Similarly, if the widow in the Gospel had been practical and prudent, she could have kept her coins, or at least given only one of them to the temple treasury. But both widows gave all they had.
In their actions, both widows revealed priorities that had little to do with prudence or practicality. It’s interesting to know that hospitality, as exercised in the ancient world, placed the care of the guest above one’s own needs and desires, so the good widow of Zerephaath tended to Elijah. In giving all she had to live on to the temple, the poor widow in the Gospel indicated that she revered God above all else, even her very life. Generosity to a worthy cause may be foolish in the eyes of the world but often it is the right and Christian thing to do. The actions of these widows remind us of the daring and impracticality we, as Jesus’ disciples, are challenged to have. We are to trust and believe so fully in God that we are willing to give all we have, holding back nothing. Maybe some kind of gesture emulating these daring women is what is needed today in Ireland?

Kevin Lyon
Archdeacon of Glendalough


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