In today's Gospel, Mark 12:38-44, we see Jesus observing the world around Him and commenting on the actions and the hearts of the people so that His disciples might understand the kinds of behaviors and attitudes God values. What we end up with is a study in contrasts.
Jesus first told His listeners to beware of the scribes. The scribes were teachers, interpreters of the Law, community leaders, and advisers to Jewish priests, but Jesus warned that these men placed too much emphasis on the outward show and status symbols attached to their office. They liked to wear the long robes that indicated their high rank among the people. They accepted greetings in the marketplace, probably looking down their noses at those “lesser” beings who addressed them so humbly. They took places of honor in both religious and secular settings, insisting on the prōtokathedria, or chief seat, in the synagogue and the prōtoklisia, or center place at the head table, at banquets. They prayed long prayers but at the same time cheated widows out of their homes and livelihoods, often by helping them “manage” their property.
Jesus announced that these hypocritical scribes would receive a very severe condemnation.
As the reading continues, we watch Jesus sit down beside the Temple treasury to observe the behavior of the crowd. Many rich people put large amounts into the treasury, money they didn't really need to maintain their lifestyles. Did some of these people have mixed motives? Did they hope to gain prestige or power through their large donations? The Bible doesn't say, but we know by our own experience how often that happens.
Jesus made no comment until a poor widow approached the treasury. She put in two small coins, two lepta, which were the smallest of the Jewish coins, worth about perhaps 1/5 of a cent each. It was all the money she had.
Think for a moment about the widow's sacrifice, which Jesus pointed out to His disciples. What trust that women must have had in God! She had given Him everything, and now she relied on Him to give her what she needed to live. What's more, no one would have noticed this widow's loving action and confidence in God if Jesus had not called attention to her. She was not acting to be seen or to gain status or power. She simply wanted to express her love for God in the only way she knew how.
So we have a study in contrasts: the pretentious scribes and wealthy contributors versus one small, poor, trusting widow.
We know which one Jesus preferred. Which one are you?