I want to begin with a story of a mother who gave her child a one-dollar bill and a quarter.
“Sweetheart,” the mother said, “you can place either one in the offering plate. It’s entirely up to you.” As they were driving home, the mother asked her daughter what she had decided to give.
“Well, at first I was going to give the dollar”, said the daughter. “But the man behind the pulpit said that God loves a cheerful giver, and I felt I would be much cheerful if I gave the quarter instead.” Like this little girl what warms your heart when you give? The praise from people? The
honor and recognition you get? …
What the readings show to us is that a person’s level of income and desire to give have nothing to do with each other. Some of the most generous people I have met do not have a lot of money; and I know many people who are very rich but have no heart to share. Mississippi state is ranked second lowest in personal income in the U.S. but it ranks 6th in charitable giving; whereas New Hampshire is ranked sixth in personal income and is ranked 45th in charitable giving. I did some research for this homily and I found that Americans gave more than 2.9% of their income to charity during the Great Depression; before the recent economic crisis of 2008, they were giving 2.8%.
So, people gave more when they had less in the U.S. This leads me to wonder: Does prosperity take away the spirit of generosity? Small acts of kindness shown to others out of love, friendship, and from a deep place can change
people and can heal our wounded and broken world. St Therese of Lisieux’s popular saying is that “nothing is too small in the sight of God. Do all that you do with love.” So, your acts of kindness could be small acts like telling someone how much you love them; it could be small acts like making a phone call to someone or paying a surprise visit to an elderly person at a nursing home, or checking on an old friend or colleague. This was the kind of generosity shown by the widow at Zarephath in feeding the prophet Elijah with the last floor and oil she had or the 2 small coins given in the offertory in the Gospel by a widow. I don’t know about you and what informs your choices about who to reach out to and the kind of causes to which you have committed your time, resources, and talents, but the principle of generosity is give until hurts; give what costs you something.
We are also reminded today of what is really important in life: First, we must embrace the true spirit of generosity after the examples of the two widows in the readings today who all point us to the person of the Lord Jesus who gave his all for us.
Second, we must change our attitude to those who are poor and see them as assets and persons who have something to contribute to our church and society.
Thirdly, we are invited to trust God and to put our lives in the hand of God. We must let go of the cares of this world which often imprison us and keep us attached to things rather than being attached to God who has the whole world in God’s hand.
Fourthly, we must also look into the evil structures of injustice in our society and even in our churches. The sinful structures of exploitation have made so many people poor and vulnerable like these two widows. In some churches, people are told to give all they have in return for God’s blessing, this widow did not give in exchange for a blessing.
This leads me to the concluding spiritual message for this Sunday: how do we see people and what is the difference between the way people appear and their true self or motive. When many people at that synagogue looked at that widow what did they see? Probably they saw a poor widow, a woman who was a nobody. But what did Jesus see? A model of faith in action; a generous woman who trusted God and put her whole life in God’s hand; a woman whose greatness was reflected in her values rather than in her possessions.
Let me be clear, Jesus is not by any means promoting the kind of Christianity we see in some Christian churches today where the poor are exploited and spiritually manipulated to give away all they have to God. Actually, in the passage before this scene, Mark 12: 40 Jesus had condemned the scribes who ‘devour the houses of widows’, ‘recite lengthy prayers’, and ‘sit in places of honor in the synagogue.’
The widow is presented as the very opposite of this kind of empty show and false religiosity. Such people who become rich by exploiting the poor, and the religious authorities who promote this kind of social hierarchies according to the Lord (Mark 12: 40), “will receive a very severe condemnation.” The widow, on the other hand, earns high praise for her inner disposition of heart because God measures us not by money, position, or title, but by the inner motives of our hearts (I Sam 16: 7; Luke 16:15). There is thus a contrast between the values of this world and the values of the kingdom; a contrast between the rich and the powerful who are cast away empty, and the humble and the poor to whom belongs the kingdom. These are the values that Jesus lived for and for which he was about to die on the Cross, where he gave away everything for the sake of the world. The widow is thus a ‘type’ of what Jesus was about to demonstrate as he enters Jerusalem
to die for us.
Furthermore, the widow did not give her mite in exchange for a divine blessing as some prosperity preachers and manipulative pastors suggest when they extort money from gullible and vulnerable Christians. The message of the Lord is about the spirit of our giving: do we give so that people will praise us and honor us or do we give because our hearts move us to give in order to contribute something to the good of others? How often have we neglected the poor (like the widows of this world) thinking as we do that, they have nothing to offer or nothing to contribute!
How often in our churches have we given places of honor only to the rich, while neglecting the poor against the clear mandate and practice of the Lord Jesus Christ! In a world that wants the poor to be invisible and voiceless, it is notable that Jesus shows us that the poor are divine icons and models of a true Christian spirit of sharing. Ultimately, the message for us is about what really matters and where and in what we put our hearts and souls. For the scribes, it is in human recognition and appearances, but for Jesus, it is in simple and humble acts of generosity and trust in divine providence.
So true are the words of St Paul that in Christ we have an abundance of blessing and grace for each new day (2 Corinthians 9: 8). Let us put our total trust in God. Go out then this week and change the world by showing someone that you truly care about them through your generous acts. Embrace everyone especially the poor as assets to be discovered, not disposable burdens on society. May God who is never outdone in generosity bless you.
(C) Stan Chu Ilo