Readings:1 Kings 1:10-16Psalms 146:7-10Hebrews 9:24-28Mark 12:41-44

To speak of one’s own generosity is generally not done in polite company. Generosity is the kind of virtue which most often needs to be judged by others. To speak of one’s own generosity turns a virtue into a sin of pride, a sin that will loom larger, and be longer remembered, than any act of generosity, regardless of its monetary value. We have all surely met the obnoxious contortionist who is remarkably able to carry on a conversation while continually patting him/herself on the back. Their company is unseemly, and most often tedious, and instead of garnering the praise that generous acts often rightly attract, they are most often pitied for being so insecure.
Today’s liturgy causes us to think of the generosity of two widows, separated by hundreds of years, who both have something to teach us about generosity, even though neither of them spoke of the virtue directly. In the first reading from 1 Kings, Elijah is on the lam. Jezebel wants to kill him, and he is fleeing the famine which is afflicting the entire territory. Generosity to strangers is a hallmark of the First Testament, and so it is no surprise when Elijah boldly asks the Gentile woman for a “small cup full of water to drink.” It’s when Elijah calls out to her, and by the way, “please bring along a bit of bread,” that Elijah appears to slip from boldness to being rude. The widow is a victim of the famine afflicting everyone, and she only has enough flour to make a small cake for her and her son. Her honesty doesn’t deter Elijah from insisting that before she cooks her son and her last meal, she is to “first make [him] a little cake and bring it to [him].” She is to be assured by the God of Israel (likely not her God) that if she does as she is told, “that jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” The widow’s faith and trust in what the prophet has to say will reap a great reward, for “she was able to eat for a year, and he (Elijah who stuck around for the food, thus escaping the famine) and her son as well.”
The details in the story from 1 Kings are minimal, but they tell us all we need to know. Our inclination would be to imagine the widow responding to Elijah’s impertinent request with harsh words, but there are no harsh words, there is no lengthy protest from the woman about the impossibility of doing what Elijah requests, after all, she has a son to worry about. No, the Semitic tradition of being kind to strangers is upheld, and the widow’s generosity is repaid tenfold. Her trust in Elijah’s God is what matters, and it is that trust which is at the root of her ability to be generous even in times of difficulty (famine).
The context for the appearance of our second widow in the Gospel of Mark can be omitted, but shouldn’t be, for it shows the growing tension between Jesus and the Church elders as we approach Jesus’ crucifixion: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”So much must have been going through Jesus’ mind as He sat and watched the goings-on across from the Temple Treasury. He had been here before, which is no doubt why He brings up with the crowd the harsh statement about Scribes: “they devour the houses of widows,” while “reciting lengthy prayers.”
Unlike the widow in 1 Kings, our gospel widow has what movies might call a bit part. She has no speaking role, and only one sentence is written about her, but the contrast of her with the “many rich people” makes her a lasting and well-known individual. Indeed, the “widow’s mite” is often used to describe those who give beyond their means. Jesus uses her example to highlight what is important about giving, and how generosity cannot necessarily be measured by dollar signs or weight. Like the widow from 1 Kings, our gospel widow gives everything she has, she gives “from her poverty,” “her whole livelihood.”
Why was this simple, yet profound lesson, so important to the gospel writer and to Jesus? In less than forty verses, Jesus will begin His Passion, and we find Him here giving His disciples a lesson about what true generosity looks like. 
It is important for His disciples and for us to know what true generosity looks like, for it is what we will see in Jesus’ death on the cross. Like the widows in today’s liturgy, Jesus gives all He has to give, His very life. Our High Priest Jesus does not give the blood of goats and rams, He gives His own blood to its very last drop, in order to atone for and “take away the sins of many” (Hebrews). That is generous and unconditional love, the kind of love that we are called to imitate as His disciples. We give our all, ‘til the money is gone and the flour is used up, we are meant to give it our all, with no fanfare and no thoughts of recompense. The poor widow was likely unrecognized by everyone but Jesus. She was doing something she did hundreds of times before. She had no idea that she was providing a lesson that would live on for centuries. When we are truly generous, we should expect the same as the widow with two cents, for we are only doing what Jesus teaches all of His disciples to do.


  1. It is good that Jesus took the time to stop along His way and give a lesson and that people even today still share that lesson with all of us….sometimes or often we need those lessons repeated in order to finally get or understand them! Thank you for sharing the lessons we know but need to her again and again…..

    our little donations from time to time may help someone who truly needs that help! We may not know the person it helps or how it helps them……… but we give when we can even if small amounts – when united with other’s small donations – they can make a difference when used wisely and generously! Many worthy causes can use our little gifts!

    I am going to read that gospel again………… thanks. mary jo


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