One of the best things that happened in the midst of the pandemic in the Philippines was the explosion of thousands of community pantries all over the country. The community pantries are community-initiated food bank, which provide free items such as rice, vegetables, canned goods and even facemasks that benefit millions of Filipinos. A handwritten slogan can be spotted on cardboard posters at most of these pantries: “Give according to your means, take according to your need.”
The community pantries at best portrays the people’s bayanihan spirit–the spirit of helping each other especially in times of need. Many poor and hungry people benefitted from the free food offered by community pantries. The community pantries, on the other hand, provided the opportunity for the poor people to offer whatever they have. We heard heaps of stories of generosity from even the poorest in the community contributing to these pantries from whatever they have.
In the readings of today’s 32nd Sunday in ordinary time, we hear of extreme examples of utter generosity of the poorest among the poor in Israel during Biblical times–the widow. Widows are among those who suffered the most in Israel during ancient times. Thus, scripture repeatedly reveals God’s care for the widow, the poor, the fatherless and the stranger, and also reveals His anger at those who deprive them of what they need to live. Despite their extreme poverty, our readings today show the utter generosity of two widows.
In the first reading from the first book of Kings, Elijah asks the widow of Zarephath to give him the little cake she was about to share with her son before they die. Amazingly, she accedes to Elijah’s request. And the jar of flour and the jug of oil continue to deliver a miraculous supply that sustains not only her and her child but also the drop-in prophet—for a whole year. In the gospel, a poor widow gave all she had to the temple. The two widows in the readings gave up everything, totally trusting in the goodness of the Lord.
The traditional interpretation of the gospel story tends to view it as contrasting the conduct of the scribes with that of the widow, and encouraging generous giving. I have always heard the story of the Widow’s Mite used in the context of sacrificial giving. I have even heard it often in fund raising enjoining parishioners to generously give to a certain project of the parish. Focusing on sacrificial giving, however, may miss a very important lesson which Jesus is trying to teach us in the gospel.
To understand this very important lesson of Jesus which may seem hidden to us in the gospel we need to go back to the scene prior to the gospel story today. In the passage immediately prior to Jesus taking a seat opposite the Temple treasury, he is portrayed as condemning religious leaders who feign piety, accept honor from people, and steal from widows.
“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.” (Mark 12:38 – 40)
In the light of this earlier passage, Addison Wright commented that more than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is actually condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “…the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it” . The religious officials of the day, instead of helping the widows in need, were perfectly content to rob them of their livelihood and inheritance. The system was corrupt, and the darkness of the scribes’ greed makes the widow’s sacrifice shine even more brightly. In other words, more than praising the widow for donating her last mite; Jesus is pointing to her as a specimen of the exploitation of the poor widows by the Jewish leaders. She is not there to have her faith praised–she is there for the damnation of the ruling Jewish elite. Jesus’ saying is not a penetrating insight on the measuring of gifts; it is a lament of what society has become because of the hypocrisy and exploitation by the elite.
Similarly, Ched Myers shows in detail how the scribes so-called religious piety was the very reason for the perpetuation of the suffering and poverty of widows.
Scribal affluence is a product of their ‘devouring the estates of widows under the pretext of saying long prayers’ . . . Through their public reputation for piety and trustworthiness (hence the ‘pretext of long prayers’), scribes would earn the legal right to administrate estates. As compensation they would usually get a percentage of the assets; the practice was notorious for embezzlement and abuse . . . The vocation of Torah Judaism is to ‘protect widows and orphans,’ yet in the name of piety these socially vulnerable classes are being exploited while the scribal class is further endowed . . . [S]cribal piety has been debunked as a thin veil for economic opportunism and exploitation . . . The temple has robbed this woman of her very livelihood (12:44). Like the scribal class, it no longer protects widows, but exploits them. 
Sadly, what Jesus observed in his day remains true today. The present socio-economic, political system even religious system continue to exploit the poor and bled them dry of their resources. Yet those with the least continue to give more, by percentage of their resources, than the wealthy. The super wealthy, the wealthy and ostentatious “scribes” of today, actually give less than those who have middle and lower incomes in taxes and in the betterment of society.
Through the gospel story, Jesus is challenging us to see the structures that allow an exploitative system that defrauds the poor and benefits the rich to continue. We need to ask why we let this continue to happen. What can we do to make society and our faith communities more fair, just and equitable?
Hopefully, this Sunday we don’t miss the point of the widow’s mite, but instead accept the challenge of Jesus and make a difference in our world.
 Addison G. Wright, “The Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament”, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 44, 1982, pp.256-265
 Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, 20th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 320 – 322.
I am passionate about the intersection between new media and technology. I continue to research and apply new media in theology and vice-versa. I am also a fan of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and her continuing relevance in today's digital world.
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From Joseph Echano at https://joeyechano.wordpress.com/.