32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 8th 2015.
1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
The real reason to give
Why should we give? Do we give because we have abundance? Or because it makes us feel good? Or because we get something back from the ones whom we give?
I came across a homeless man and his family recently on the streets of Manila on my way to school. I gave him some money and really felt good seeing the smile on his face as I walked away. But I could not walk away because I felt inspired to give him more than I had given. I prayed, “Jesus, I have only money for transport back home left. What do you want me to give to him?” Dangerous question to ask Jesus because at that moment I remembered that I had my homemade sandwich for lunch in my backpack. I said, “What? My custom made sandwich? Heck no! What am I going to have for lunch?” But I could not walk away without giving more. So I walked back to him and handed him and his family my sandwiches and I will never forget the beautiful smiles on their faces. At lunch break, I was still wondering how I was going to get some food when my classmate turned to me and said, “Do you want to come and eat lunch with us in our community today?” I shivered at his question. That was the first and only time that I received such an invitation. Off course, I jumped at his offer of lunch with much gratitude. Talk about seeing God acting in your life and letting you know that He is dependable!
Why should we give? We should give relentlessly not because we have a lot or because it makes us feel good or because we will get something back. We should give because we want to be place ourselves in a position of greater dependence before God. When we choose not to give, we begin to depend on ourselves and on our possessions and not on God alone. But when we choose to give because we want to depend more and more on God, we give God a chance to act in our life and to show us that He is truly dependable. In short, every opportunity to give is an opportunity to let God act in our lives and remind us of how dependable He is.
God provided for the pagan widow in today’s First Reading an opportunity to give to a stranger in the person of the stranded prophet Elijah. Her meeting with the prophet in a time of drought was no mere coincidence. God had spoken to Elijah, “Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have designated a widow there to provide for you.” The prophet’s request to the woman for water and for a cake when she had only a little flour and oil left for herself and her son was an invitation to her to place herself in a position of trust in the God of the Israelites and not in her little supply of food and definitely not in her lifeless pagan god. She responded and gave from the little she had and she saw the living God acting in her life, “The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”
Jesus tells calls his disciples in the Gospel to beware of the scribes who act only to receive. They readily accept the seats of honor and the greetings and respect of others and, in their greed, they do not have any qualms in “devouring the houses of widows.” Even their prayer is out of pretense to make them look devout, “As a pretext they recite lengthy prayers.” Because they do not show any genuine form of generosity towards God or others in giving so as to depend more on God, they close themselves to God’s saving action of God and thus choose to be condemned, “They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
On the other hand, Jesus commends the widow who put in her few cents. Others who put in great sums gave from their surplus and thus never placed themselves in a place of greater dependence on God. The widow’s giving placed her in a position of complete dependence on God because she “contributed all that she had, her entire livelihood.” Her giving is a reflection of her trusting heart and her readiness to allow God act in her life.
St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches in his meditation on the Two Standards that Satan and the devils, beginning with riches, use a three step program for bringing us to all sin. Beginning from tempting us to covet, accumulate and hoard riches for our selfish needs, they then temp us to seek the praise and esteem of others, and then the temptation to pride. “The first step is riches, then the second honor, and the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.”
Jesus too begins with riches in His saving plan but with a different goal – to bring us to that humility and confidence in God that opens us to the divine action in our lives. Jesus acts in three steps, attracting us first to “poverty of spirit (or actual poverty) as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to the honors of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, all men are led to all virtues.” Giving of what we have is the first step to conquering pride, overcoming self and attaining that humility of heart that beckons on divine providence so powerfully. “God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.” This is the reason why divine providence places before us numerous opportunities to give of what we have and what we are to others.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too must begin with examining our attitude towards riches. The more we and our culture seek to obtain, hoard and keep riches for ourselves without any form of generosity towards God or others, we develop a false sense of self dependence that blinds us to our need for God in this life or the dependence that we should have on Him. We thus begin to compete with others in seeking honors and human praise, and in our resulting pride, we harden our hearts towards God’s truth, mercy and grace. This explains why affluent cultures are more prone to secularism, rejection of God and His laws, irreligion, and religious indifference.
We can break from this trap of riches only by choosing to give like Christ of what we have and what we are – our resources, time, energy, talents, words, good examples – and doing so not to get something back or to feel good about ourselves but simply because we want to place ourselves in a position of greater dependence on God. When our calculating self reminds us of our need for self-preservation and use of goods for ourselves, let us recall that God has given us that which we have so that, giving to others, we become channels of His divine action in the world and not lifeless reservoirs of His gifts.
The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that because Jesus Christ gave of all that He had, offering Himself to the Father on the Cross for us, God is still acting today in our world. Because Jesus continues to “appear before God on our behalf” to obtain graces and mercy for us, we have sure hope about the forgiveness of our sins and the reality of God’s saving action in our lives.
Indeed, God continues to act today in our world too because a humble virgin from Nazareth did not hesitate to give herself completely to God so that God could become one like us. Though she lacked the experience of motherhood, “How shall this be as I know no man,” Mary gave of her littleness to God when invited to do so through the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. From that moment on and till the very end of time, God has willed to act and will continue to act in our world in and through His Son Jesus Christ because of Mary’s complete gift of herself to God.
This same Jesus whom we encounter in this Eucharist wants to continue to act in our world through our generosity. He will never cease providing moments for us to give of ourselves. Let us not wait until we have a lot to give. Let us not wait until it feels good to give or we are sure we will get something in return. But let us give of what we have today so that we place ourselves in a position of greater dependence on God. Only such a giving will give God a chance to act in our lives and show us that He is indeed a dependable God.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!