In today’s Gospel we see why Jesus talks about it being difficult for a rich person to be saved. We are frequently focused on the amount of things, of goods, or of money. Jesus wants us to understand that so long as we focus on the way our lives and actions appear we cannot grasp our true trajectory. Where we are headed depends on the disposition of our heart, our intentions, what we choose to value. Even the one who is exteriorly poor may end up anxious and worried about tomorrow if they are not poor in spirit. Generosity with the goods of this world must be responsible and unselfish – and that can only come from a heart that trusts in God more than in wealth. The problem with material goods is how we come to cling to them, rely on them, and get our sense of security from them.
The poor widow’s contribution was not simply two small coins – Jesus informs us that she put in her whole soul, her whole substance. Had the widow only put in two coins, that would not be remarkable. If all you have are two bucks in your pocket, it could be very easy to give them away to someone in need. The widow makes her contribution not to someone in need, but to the treasury – to the temple, the place of worship. The two cents of the the widow are her act of worship, and God sees it as valuable because she made a complete gift of herself, trusting and relying fully on Him. Jesus is teaching us that we can and should always give our soul completely to God – it doesn’t matter how unimpressive it may look on the outside. Some give their whole soul to God through their motherhood or fatherhood, some give it by being the leader of an amazing ministry, some give it through their tears of loneliness and failure. At every moment of our lives, God is inviting us to make a complete act of trust in Him, to let go and offer Him our souls completely. This act begins in the invisible secret of our soul – an act of adoration and worship, an act of love and trust in our Heavenly Father. The peace and love we come to know in this relationship will enable us to continue offering Him our whole life with serenity and joy.
The Pharisees looked to the “tithing of anise and cummin, and left undone the weightier matters of the law.” While devoting great care to the things which were external, they overlooked those which bore upon salvation of the soul. For they also paid much attention to “greetings in the marketplace,” and to the “uppermost seats at feasts.” To them the Lord Jesus, knowing their perdition, made this declaration: that they attended to those things only which were external, and despised as strange those things which were within, and did not understand that he who made the body made also the soul.1
Therefore, one answers, is there no need for money? There is no need for money, but for a Christian disposition. If you have this, you will even be able to buy heaven with two small copper coins. Without this disposition, one will not be able to do with ten thousand talents of gold the very thing that the two coins can do. Why? Because whenever you have many things and deposit a lesser amount, you have given alms, but not the same kind of alms that the widow gave. For you were not depositing it with the same kind of eagerness that she did.2
When alms are given, we attend to nothing else except the disposition required. And if you say that money is needed, and houses and clothes and shoes, read those words of Christ, which he spoke concerning the widow, and stop being anxious. For even if you are extremely poor, and among those that beg, if you cast in your two small coins, you have done all in your power. Though you offer only a barley cake, having only this, you will have arrived at the heart of the matter.3
CAESARIUS OF ARLES:
Therefore, those who possess good will have everything. This alone can be sufficient if there are no other things, but if it alone is lacking, whatever they possess profits nothing. If it is present, it alone suffices, but everything else avails nothing if charity alone is lacking.4
The treasure in one’s heart is the intention of the thought, from which the searcher of hearts judges the outcome. Hence it quite frequently occurs that some persons perform good deeds of lesser importance with a greater reward of heavenly grace. This is because of the intention in their hearts to accomplish greater good if they could. Others, though they display greater works of virtue, are allotted smaller rewards by the Lord on account of the indifference in their lukewarm hearts. The deed of the widow who contributed two copper coins to the temple was preferred to the large contributions of those who were rich by the One who weighs what is within our hearts.5
It is better to begin from one’s feeble state and end up strong, to progress from small things to larger, than to set your heart from the very first on the perfect way of life, then only to abandon it later—or keep to it solely out of habit, because of what others will think—in which case all this labor will be in vain. It is the same with people who travel: if they tire themselves out on the very first day by rushing along, they will end up wasting many days as a result of sickness. But if they start out walking at a gentle pace until they have gotten accustomed to walking, in the end they will not get tired, even though they walk great distances. Likewise anyone who wishes to embark on the labors of the virtuous life should train himself gently, until he gradually reaches the full extent of his abilities. Do not be perplexed by the many paths walked by our fathers of old, each different from the other. Do not overzealously try to imitate them all—this would only upset your way of life. Rather, choose a way of life that suits your feeble state; travel on that, and you will live, for your Lord is merciful and he will receive you, not because of your achievements, but because of your intention, just as he received the destitute woman’s gift.6
PAULINUS OF NOLA
Let us then invest with the Lord what he has given us, for we have nothing that does not come from him: we are dependent upon him for our very existence.… So let us give back to the Lord the gifts he has given us.7
Let us then become heaven. Let us mount up to that height, whence we shall see people differing nothing from ants. I do not speak of the poor only, nor the many, but even if there be a general there, even if the emperor is there, we shall not distinguish the emperor or the private person. We shall not know what is gold or what is silver, what is silken or purple raiment. We shall see all things as if they were flies, if we are seated at that height. There is no tumult there, no disturbance or clamor.…8
- THE DISPUTATION WITH MANES 21. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON PHILIPPIANS. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 168). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, HOMILY 52.5. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 169). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 182.3. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 169). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 2.25. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 169–170). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ADMONITION ON PRAYER. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 170). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTERS 34, 24. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 170). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS 16.8-9. Heen, E. M., & Krey, P. D. W. (Eds.). (2005). Hebrews (p. 144). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.