We all know the tale of Jack and the Beanstock. Young Jack and his mother are desperately poor, with nothing to their name but a cow. Driven by need, Jack’s mother asks him to sell the cow — it would leave them with nothing else, and no hope in the future, but it’s the best she can do to let them live on for just a little longer. Jack, however, heeds the words of a stranger, and rather than getting a few coins for the cow, exchanges her for a few supposedly magic beans. His mother, not to our surprise, is not remotely happy by the exchange!
However, it is just this sort of recklessness which the Scriptures seem to counsel today. They seem to say that with the widow of Zarephath and the widow in the Temple, we need to give and give even to the last bit we can call our own, even to our own detriment and of those who depend on us. What is more, what we think is reasonable — to make sure our basic needs are covered and then, only then, from what remains as surplus, to be generous to others — this perfectly reasonable-sounding policy seems precisely the attitude to fall under our Lord’s critique. Those who are generous out of their surplus Jesus at least appears to associate with those whose very way of life eats up the houses of widows while they congratulate themselves for their piety and generosity!