God Sees the Heart

"This poor widow put in more than all the rest" (Luke 21:3).

Jesus praises a poor widow for putting more into the temple treasury than all the rich donors making a great fanfare of their donations because her gift was all she had to live on, while the rich only gave from their surplus wealth. 

The image begs comparison with the current debate over a tax bill in Congress that many critcs say will benefit the wealthy at the expense of ordinary tax payers over time. Tax rates will determine the impact on different groups, and while in a graduated system the amount the rich pay is more than others, the impact is much less, because it comes from great wealth, not from their sustenance. Middle income people will pay a higher percentage of their livelihood, while also losing deductions and programs they benefitted from in order to pay for this shift in total tax burden. 

Jesus used the impact rule, not the amount, to compare the generosity of the widow to the big donors. While this Gospel might be regarded as only a lesson about generosity, it is impossible to separate it from the the context. Jesus had only recently "cleansed" the temple in a dramatic protest, calling it a "den of thievers." In today's Gospel he critiques the wealthy donors as part of a system that made them rich and so many others, including this widow, desperately poor.  To point out this shameful income gap and neglect of the poor in God's own house should not be lost on us.  

The current  income distribution enabled, aided and abetted by our political system has created vast wealth for the few and hardship for the majority. Good government and a fair tax system are the only way this dangerous gulf can be addressed. Corruption threatens the whole system. It is not just economics and politics, but a matter or dire moral necessity. Today's poor widow confronts us, and Jesus makes this a personal challenge for us all.