32nd Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: 1Kings 17:10-16 Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28 Gospel Reading: Mark 12:38-44
“WHAT WOULD SUIT A CHRISTIAN'S GIVING?”
In a certain parish, the church was in terrible shape. The paint was peeling; the lawn was bad—there wasn't enough money to plant grass seed. The hymn books were torn and tattered. Plaster had fallen from the ceiling. So the Pastor called a meeting to raise money to do something about it and he invited, among others, the richest man in town.
He worked on the rich man and others too, but couldn't get any response. Finally he said, “Let us all go to the Church and pray.” And the Pastor fervently prayed to God to give them a sign that would melt the hearts of these stony people, especially the rich man. Well, the Lord accommodated him. Just then an enormous piece of plaster fell off the wall directly onto the head of the wealthy man. He instantly leaped to his feet and said, “I'll give $2000.” Evidently, the Pastor was very excited and said under his breath, “Hit him again, Lord, hit him again!”
In the three Scripture Readings of today, the central theme that runs through them all is 'generosity and sacrificial giving' and we all are called to participate.
Now, it is often the case that it is not those who have in abundance, but those with the least who are the most generous people. Perhaps, it is their own plight that sensitizes them to what real need means - if you have gone hungry yourself, you are likely to have greater compassion on another than someone who has not experienced it. You will also be aware of how little it can take to make a difference: a hungry person will welcome a simple scone; a naked person will welcome anything that keeps him/her warm; a lonely person will welcome even a smile.
Today, we have double stories to show this to be true – one from the OT and the other from the NT – of two unlikely champions, both poor widows, both of whom were heroes of faith and generosity, who have played their roles in anonymity, unknown and forgotten by history, were it not for the recording of their stories in the pages of the Scripture. They have shown much generosity in little things and their sacrificial giving is recognized as great in the eyes of God. And we may ask ourselves today - “What would suit a Christian's giving?”
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Mark, we have a very interesting scene of Jesus sitting down opposite the temple treasury and observing how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also comes and she puts in only two small copper coins not worth very much. But Jesus is moved by what she has done and draws the attention of his disciples to the action of the poor widow who put in 'more than all who have contributed to the treasury ... everything she possessed.' She precisely did just as Jesus had advised the rich young man to do, who had sought his advice on how to inherit eternal life earlier in Mark's Gospel, by giving everything she possessed.
The point of Jesus' commendation is that the true measure of gifts is -
- not how much is given but how much remains behind.
- the percentage of one's means which the gift represents.
- the self denial involved, the cost to the giver
In short, the point of the story is that a true gift is to give everything one has. True gift is a sacrifice. So, we may ask ourselves today - “What would suit a Christian's giving?”
The First Reading from the First Book of Kings has a similar story. It also features a poor widow. Reduced to absolute penury, she is on her way to get firewood to cook probably the last meal for her son and herself from a handful of flour and a tiny bit of oil, all that she has left. She sees nothing but death by starvation before them. Then Elijah, the prophet, himself hungry, comes and asks her for a cup of water and a bit of bread. When she tells him her situation, he still asks her to make a small scone for him. In a generous act of sharing, she does so and she is rewarded by there being enough for all three of them and the jar of flour and the jug of oil do not empty until rains come and the drought is over. The generosity of this widow touches us strongly and fills us with great admiration. And we may ask ourselves today - “What would suit a Christian's giving?”
The common denominator between the story of Elijah above and the story in Mark's Gospel is 'a widow' - in both instances a 'poor' widow. In the Jewish tradition, widows and orphans were regarded as the poorest people without any family support. But they were special people under the protection of the God who executes justice for them.
The two widows in question have in common - their willingness to give everything they had to help others. It was in a daring act of trust in God's providence that they gave away everything they owned. Their extraordinary, self-denying, generosity is rooted in a recognition of God's prodigality, God's generosity first towards Israel. Their gifts are grounded in his gift of life in his image and likeness, of the covenant, and the protection extended to the poor through the Mosaic Law and the cry of the prophets. If to some extent they are gamblers, staking everything on the final card, it is because they are first lovers, in love with God who has graced their lives thus far, and this is not a dicey game of chance, but a journey in faith.
Does the world always take notice of these heroes? No. But that doesn’t matter. For they play out their roles for an audience of One. And He notices. God notices. And that is enough. And we may ask ourselves today - “What would suit a Christian's giving?”
What the widows could not know, of course, is that the divine prodigality has now been made manifest in Christ, his incarnation and passion, for - “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
In the Second Reading of today from the letter to the Hebrews, the author makes it clear that we have in Christ the perfect 'High Priest' - no human can offer a sacrifice which surpasses his own. He also contrasts the actions of the Jewish high priest with Jesus' priestly office. Each year the Jewish high priest entered the sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem with the sacrifice of animals' blood. In contrast, Jesus entered the sanctuary of heaven and offered the sacrifice of himself to take away our sins.
So, the total renunciation of self of the the two widows could be seen as an analogy with Christ's own total self-renunciation, as the sacrifice needed to save sinners. Jesus comments on the widow's gift at the Temple knowing that he himself will shortly make his life an offering to the Father, making of death upon the cross a self-sacrifice. This story in Mark thus forms a bridge between the teaching life of Jesus and the Passion narrative which is soon to follow. So, if either widow is at all foolish, their folly is Christlike. Their action makes only as much sense as Christ's gift of his all, his life, makes sense. And we may ask ourselves today - “What would suit a Christian's giving?”
Today therefore, when we attend the Holy Eucharist, let us remember Jesus' sacrificial self-giving for the forgiveness of our sins. And as he generously gave everything for his people, he invites us all today into a new generosity with the gifts we have received from God. Admittedly, it's not always easy, for, God GIVES & GIVES... and FORGIVES, while man GETS & GETS... and FORGETS. It is hard to learn that we and our gifts are not in competition. In a sense, gifts are like virtues and they need to be practiced, perfected in relationship and dialogue with the family members, friends, strangers, and enemies. During this Holy Mass then, let us fervently ask for the forgiveness of our sins, especially for not being generous in forgiving one another.
To conclude: The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a supplicant hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Copper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."
And we may ask ourselves today - “WHAT WOULD SUIT A CHRISTIAN'S GIVING?”