Can you smell a justice question hiding behind the appreciation of generosity??
Jesus admired and extolled the generosity of the widow in the Gospel of Mark (12, 38–44). She made an offering (much less in absolute value) from the little she had. Appreciating the generosity of many like her, and invitation to do like wise is a common massage from the preachers of this gospel.
I saw a powerful reflection, shared by James Martin SJ.
“The widow is surely generous. But is she generous to a fault? Does Jesus really approve her action? Thus in Mark 11–12 the Jerusalem Temple and its officials have been treated from a critical perspective (see especially 11:15–19) and in 13:2. Jesus will prophesy the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple — an event that was to occur in 70 CE under the Romans.
Thus the context of Mk 12:41–44 raises the question whether the generosity of the poor widow should be taken as an occasion for praise (the usual approach) or for lament (an approach suggested by Addison G. Wright and others).
When interpreted as a cause for lament the widow’s actions would illustrate the perils of institutional religion whereby the Temple establishment manipulated this generous woman into parting with what little she possessed.
At the very least, attention to the Markan context leaves open whether the widow is presented as a model to be imitated for her generosity or as someone to be pitied as the victim of religious exploitation.”
“Sacra Pagina,” The Gospel of Mark, Donahue and Harrington, p. 365.
Along with the question of her generosity, was there a question of religious exploitation? I wont say that the interpretation appreciating the generosity of widow is false; but if we stop there, the full potential of Gospel or the liberation promised by the Gospels (and Jesus) won’t be fulfilled. Some contemporay examples may drive home the point.
- Watching the much acclaimed film Jai Bhim, and acclaming the wonderful action of hero is good.
- A working husband being happy and appreciative of the entire house work done by his working wife is laudable.
- Children (after a certain age) being appreciative of the continued parenting and care (or spoonfeeding) done by parents is wonerful.
- Being appreciative of the heroic acts by several individuals in the domain of ecology, justice etc is wonderful.
- Appreciating a father/mother struggling hard against poverty and health-issues to raise up their children.
In many of these cases, the heroic act is appreciated. But there may be a dimension of exploitation hidden there. If we end at the level of appreciation and doesn’t move towards a work towards systemic justice, Jesus’ words are empty for us.
Widow’s mite is definitley praiseworthy. The system that forces her to continually do the same, and which continues to appreciate it, but not moving a finger to get her out of poverty, is unjust.
Widow’s Mite in the Gospel of Mark
Anonymous, marginal characters can be extremely significant