Widows were very vulnerable in the society of Jesus’ day. There were no social services to care for them. The widow in today’s gospel was destitute, like the widow in the first reading who was facing starvation. The two small coins she put into the treasury would have contributed little in comparison to what the rich were giving. However she had given her all and how was she going to live?
Mark makes a very stark contrast between the poor woman and the scribes. We do not know her age but we can imagine that she went unnoticed by most people. The scribes in particular were far too busy preening themselves in their fine robes and making sure everyone knew how much they had contributed. Moreover, Jesus accused them of swallowing up the property of widows, when - as men versed in the scriptures - they would have known the frequent references to caring for the needy in Deuteronomy and other books of the Old Testament. "You shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge” (Deut. 24:17).
Last Monday was All Saints Day. We celebrated those people, like the widow, who spent their lives quietly doing good, mostly unobserved. They will never be formally canonized as they are known only to God. They have left a radiance that will long outlast the glitter that surrounds celebrity. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly" (from the Magnificat, Luke 1:52).