In our Gospel reading today, our Lord Jesus watches a poor widow pull out two small coins and drop them in the temple treasury. We are told that many rich people have put in much larger sums, but it is this widow that catches the Lord’s eye and moves his heart for her generosity–not any of the bigger donors.
This tells us immediately that Jesus has a most unconventional way of appraising gifts. Unlike us and the rest of the world, our Lord does not pay too much attention to the material value of gifts. We, on the other hand, are too easily focused on their price tags, thanks to our consumerist culture and the compulsive acquisitiveness that it often breeds in us. Just as we tend to define ourselves by what we possess, likewise we tend to value people for the price of the gifts we receive from them.
Not so the Lord. Unimpressed by the richer donors who, in fact, have given so much more than the widow, our Lord keeps his eye on the heart of the giver. Whereas the others offer what is merely spare change for them, the widow has contributed “all she has, her entire livelihood.” In other words, she has given painstakingly. Her giving cost her a lot, but she has opted to take the pain of giving.
Our Lord knows all about poor widows. His own mother was a widow, and he might have watched Mary scrimp and save to make sure they had bread on the table every day. Since she was a pious Jew, it is quite possible that Jesus might have also seen her scrimp and save just to be able to offer a donation to the temple. Who knows? Maybe the widow in the temple reminded him of his mother and her painstaking generosity.
It seems that God treasures painstaking giving–not because He likes pain, but because the most valuable giving takes pain. God is pleased when we engage in painstaking giving because something beautiful happens to our heart. When we part with something dear to us for something good–no matter how small its material cost, if any–our heart emerges out of its self-centered cocoon and flutters free. And nothing gladdens God more than a heart transformed into a bright-winged butterfly.