Make no mistake about it, our Gospel lesson today (Mark 12:38-44) does not praise the poor widow who gave all she had, even though it was nothing more than a mite (a small bit). I feel sorry for her of course, after all in a few short days she will be dead. That’s right. The story says that she gave all she had to live on; so with nothing more to sustain her, nobody to take care of her, no means to support herself, she will die.
I doubt that Jesus means to praise her action or that Jesus wants us to use this story to support a capital campaign. She is in the story to draw attention to the hypocrites, the people seeking the public’s approval but who do all sorts of mean deeds out of the view of others. Jesus is not praising anyone’s actions, not the poor widow’s and not the scribes’. Granted, Jesus points out that, comparatively speaking, she’s giving more than the others (all is more than some). Jesus is actually warning us not to be like the scribes but he’s not telling us to be foolish with our resources.
Perhaps Jesus is contrasting two extremes and asking his followers to find balance. Being in right relationship with God matters, it is not about seeking the praise of others. Neither is it about letting others take advantage of us. The treasury that the widow contributed to was probably for the upkeep of the temple. This story comes in the midst of discussions about priorities: which commandment is greatest, and the prediction about the destruction of the temple. In other words, no matter how much the scribes (or the widow) contribute, the temple will be destroyed.
People need places of prayer, but not if we forfeit our primary relationship, our relationship with God. God is the source of balance between the two extremes of the scribes and the poor widow. The Good News is God desires that we find balance in our life.