27 November
Lk 21:1-4

Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."

The poor widow’s simplicity and generosity serves to highlight the opposite qualities in the religious authorities.  In the verses just before this passage Jesus is lashing the religious authorities for “swallowing the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers.”  Just then, as if to illustrate what he said, along comes a poor widow to put money in the collection box.  It was very little – two small coins – but it was “all she had to live on.”  Common sense tells us that this passage is first and foremost a criticism of the Temple system and its wealth, but mostly it is given a pious interpretation, as if Jesus saw nothing but the widow’s generosity.  A widow in that society was entirely without resources or protection.  Of course he saw her generosity, and it is not belittled in the least.  But he also saw that she was an example of the system’s capacity to exploit the poor.

Piety can be highly ambiguous.  One of most pious men I ever met ruined the lives of several members of his family.  One of the bitterest women I ever met was a daily Mass-goer.  Instead of facing the evil that I do, I indulge in a life of piety to prove to myself and the world that I'm a good person.  But first comes justice, then piety.  As Dr Johnson famously said, “A scoundrel will beat you all in piety.” 


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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