There is a saying in Filipino that captures the spirit of today’s Gospel: “Isusubo na lang, ibibigay pa sa iba.” This succinctly expresses the spirit of generosity and giving that marked the poor widow’s giving: “…but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.”
This description of her generosity is better expressed in the synonymous term “magnanimity,” the magna anima, the great soul. The poor widow’s giving was one that came from a greatness of soul.
This is the power of her example: not what or how much she gave, but how or why she gave out of poverty, that allowed her to tap into her core and give with great soul.
A parallel example is Peter’s own giving in the Acts of the Apostles. “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.” (Acts 3: 6)
Note how in both cases the ability to give magnanimously comes from a sense of poverty, a sense of poverty born out of an acknowledgement of one’s radical dependence on others— or, in these cases, on God. In short, a sense of poverty that leads to the virtue of humility.
As we reflected on in a previous article, humility, humanity and humor share a common root word: humus.
As the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu shared in a conversation: “The lowly and sustaining earth is the source of all three words. Is it any surprise that we have to have a sense of humility to be able to laugh at ourselves and that to laugh at ourselves reminds us of our shared humanity?” (from “The Book of Joy”)
Back to basics
We go back to basics as we humble ourselves, and in going back to basics we discover what is essential. It is in our essence, our core, that we discover who we really are—what matters most.
It is our sense of poverty that leads us to the virtue of humility, which in turn leads us to great freedom, the spiritual freedom that transcends the material considerations of life.
People may be physically incarcerated, but their spirit and soul remain free. They may be oppressed and threatened, but they refuse to surrender their hope.
People may be materially marginalized, but their kindness, compassion and magnanimity overflow toward a sharing of the little that they have with a greatness of heart and soul—like the poor widow, like Peter.
This is what makes the widow’s offering, the widow’s mite, a source of inspiration. It was not the “two small coins worth a few cents” that inspires, but the spirit of the giving—non multa, sed multum, “not many, but much.”
This most certainly is a most welcome reminder to us. In a world that can be caught in the many distractions that material affluence and technological advancement bring, she reminds us that it is the greatness of soul that rises above all these.
The greatness of soul brings us back to our core, to the virtue of humility that connects us to one another in our shared humanity; to the humility that brings us greater spiritual freedom to give with a greatness of spirit—to love and to serve in all things. —CONTRIBUTED