“For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” — Mark 12:44
Too often people hear the ending of this Gospel simply in financial terms. “Well, even though she gave hardly anything compared to all those rich people, Jesus is pointing out that she gave a whole lot more, because it was all the money that she had!”
The root of the Greek word that St Mark uses for “livelihood” is “bios”, from which we get the word “biology”, “biosphere”, etc. It means physical life, first and foremost. So the sense of the last sentence in this Gospel is that the poor widow gave her whole life, not just all her money or livelihood. And this scene sets up the climax of the whole Gospel, where Someone else is going to give His whole Life!
Now we can see better how rich this whole passage is. The widow is not giving of her surplus; she is putting her whole body on the line. The fact that she is a widow is also very significant. In a fallen society—back then as today—widows were too often subjected to neglect and abuse. (Think of financial fraud done to seniors today!) So she may have no one but God to lean on for support and justice. Her being a widow also reminds us of another widow, Anna (Luke 2), who is worshiping the Lord day and night, giving her all. Doesn’t that sound like someone who is in love?!? So too we can imagine this widow worshiping her Lord with her whole life, spirit, soul and body, including a purified eros!
Here is a passage from St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which can help fill out this scene even more. He is meditating on the resurrection of the body as a reality of the “Future World” and how the body will have a new meaning as it undergoes “spiritualization” and “divinization” (coming under the complete sway of the Holy Spirit):
“The reciprocal gift of oneself to God—a gift in which man will concentrate and express all the energies of his own personal and at the same time psychosomatic [soul and body together] subjectivity—will be the response to God’s gift of himself to man. In this reciprocal gift of self by man, a gift that will become completely and definitively beatifying as the response worthy of a personal subject to God’s gift of himself, the “virginity” or rather the virginal state of the body will manifest itself completely as the eschatological fulfillment of the “spousal” meaning of the body, as the specific sign and authentic expression of personal subjectivity as a whole.” (TOB 68:3)
Obviously there is a lot packed into this passage. For now let it suffice to say this much: In this month of All Saints and All Souls, where the Church keeps before our eyes the myriads and myriads of human beings who have gone before us and are already enjoying or are on their way toward enjoying Heaven, we can, with the help of St John Paul’s meditation, encourage one another here on earth to keep our eyes on the prize (or in biblical terms, “the pearl of great price”). Here are some ways to do that:
- Let us be clear about what the Pearl is: a mutual, total, spontaneous giving and receiving, no longer between a man and a woman in marriage, but between each human person and the Trinity (“reciprocal gift…man will concentrate and express ALL the energies of his own personal and….psychosomatic subjectivity…”
- This initiating Self-Gift by God and our response in total self-giving will completely fulfill us, make us definitively happy (“a gift that will become completely and definitively beatifying”). This mutual, complete and definitive relationship between us human beings and the Blessed Trinity IS what we call Heaven, the Completely Beatifying Vision!!! Heaven is not some place or static way of being as too many people tend to imagine it! NO! It is a totally dynamic relationship, infinitely better than the best marriages and friendships in this life!!!
- This Beatific Vision or Face-to-face Relationship will be the fulfillment of all of our spousal longings which the Trinity has poured into each one of us (“the virginal state of the body will manifest itself completely as the eschatological [culminating] fulfillment of the “spousal” meaning of the body”).
If someone wanted to go deeper into this last point—especially in the afterglow of Holy Communion, when Heaven comes to earth, another powerful passage from St John Paul would be worth looking at: “Participation in the divine nature, participation in the inner life of God himself, penetration and permeation of what is essentially human by what is essentially divine, will then reach its peak, so that the life of the human spirit will reach a fullness that was absolutely inaccessible to it before. This new spiritualization will thus be a fruit of grace, that is, of God’s self-communication in his very divinity, not only to the soul, but to the whole of man’s psychosomatic subjectivity.” (TOB 67:3)
Fr. Thomas Koller, OCD, is a Carmelite friar and priest of the Discalced Carmelite Province of California. He has a Licentiate degree in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and is a seminary formator and professor of Scripture at Mount Angel Seminary in Mt Angel, Oregon. Fr. Thomas has attended some courses at TOBI.