In his teaching Jesus said, 'Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.'
He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called to his disciples and said to them, 'I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.'
On the occasion of his last visit to the Temple Jesus shares with his disciples some thoughts on the true nature of generosity. By highlighting the actions of a poor widow Jesus reveals that generosity is from the heart, from a genuine desire to sacrifice and to give to others. 'True generosity' is not done for show, nor is it giving from excess.
All too often 'giving' can become a feelgood exercise, a way of satisfying the pangs of conscience, but even then there are things holding us back from giving freely and from the heart. We search for the coins in our pockets just to make sure we do not give anything too valuable to the homeless person on the streets. We donate broken and disused items to charity rather than buying something new for the charity or giving up an item that we have but never use. We give from what is spare rather than what we ourselves need.
The story of the poor widow provides a counter cultural message, even for contemporary Australians who are amongst the most generous people in the world today. By its very nature Australia is a generous society. We respond to the needs of others, at home and abroad, whose lives have been devastated by the effects of various natural disasters; bushfires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. We give to various appeals and charitable organizations to meet the needs of the homeless, the poor and the marginalized. Amidst this generosity there are other voices, which claim to be the 'voices of reason', telling us to harden our hearts and to ignore the plight of our neighbour. We must ignore such calls, remembering that 'faith without good works is dead' (James 2:17-18).
Luke's Gospel account reminds us that all people are called to do good works. We should not be motivated by accolades or rewards, we should not seek the praise of others, or 'seats of honour' but in a quiet, unassuming way, we should always seek to do God's will. In this the lucky country, we should remain a generous people, always mindful that 'those to whom much has been given, much will be expected' (Lk 12:48).