32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 11, 2018.
1Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
Giving all from our poverty
“But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
I was asked some years ago to give a 3-days retreat to some priests and religious of a religious community. I arrived at the venue only to realize that they had been on retreat already for two days earlier and their retreat director for those two days was a prominent Bishop here in the Philippines. I experienced that familiar feeling of being insufficient and unqualified to complete a retreat began by this other renowned and revered Bishop, theologian, and retreat master.
The only thing that gave me hope and strength at that time was this story of the widow’s mite of today’s Gospel (Mk 12:38-44). As she observed the many who “put in large sums,” she rejected all feelings of insufficiency but confidently and silently gave her “two small coins worth a few cents.” Her offering was obviously unnoticed to everyone else except to Jesus who commended her and held her up as an example for all His disciples, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” I knew for sure that I too would win Jesus’ commendation if I gave all that I had no matter how little it may be or what may result from it.
But why does this widow draw such praise from Jesus? She wins Jesus’ commendation because Jesus does not look so much at how much is given but He focuses on the heart behind the giving. Jesus is more interested in the generosity of her heart, her heartfelt trust in God to provide for her in her poverty, and the silent giving that the widow exhibits more than the actual money that she put into the treasury, “But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Nothing can stop her from giving to God – not the death of her husband, her poverty, her home that may have been devoured by the scribes or her lack of status in the society of her time. Jesus could not help but notice such decisive and generous giving on her part.
Contrast this commendation of the widow with the condemnation that the scribes received from Jesus. The scribes are not condemned because they liked “long robes,” “seats of honor in synagogues,” and “places of honor at banquets.” They are deserving of a “severe condemnation” because, in pursuing these things, their hearts became far from what God expected from them. They had no problem taking what belonged to others to the point of “devouring the houses of (helpless) widows,” and their prayer lacked any authentic relationship with God, “As a pretext, they recite empty prayers.”
The widow in 1Kgs 17:10-16 shows us how God notices and rewards the little things that we do from our hearts that are aligned with His will for us. The widow uses the little that she had left, “a handful of flour in her jar and a little oil in her jug,” to make a little cake for Elijah the prophet. She had a heart obedient to God and trusting in His promises, “For the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” By her generous obedience to the stranger’s request from God, she gained more than she could ever imagine.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have in us things that remind us of our poverty, things that cause us to think of ourselves as insignificant or incapable of making an impact in the Church and in the world today. Our sense of poverty becomes magnified when we compare our little talents and efforts with all the good that others have and are achieving in life.
The moments when our poverty become evident, making us feel insufficient, inadequate or incompetent, are moments when Jesus is inviting us to give all out of our poverty for His own sake and take whatever may result from giving all. These are not moments to become discouraged or despondent, simply wishing that we had all things together first. It is also not a time to pretend that we are self-sufficient and perfectly suited to the tasks. But these are moments when Jesus is inviting us to show Him the faith, hope, and love that He has poured into our hearts by the gift of His Spirit. He would surely commend us for our positive response to His invitation to give all for His sake no matter how little we have.
The Gospel message calls us to offer our whole selves to God and trust God to repay us. St. Paul states it this way: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well that you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord.”(Col 3:23-24)
Mama Mary was the first person to receive and respond to the Gospel’s invitation to give all for the sake of Jesus from her own poverty. Asked to be the Virgin-Mother of the God-Man Jesus Christ, she humbly acknowledged her poverty before the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be since I am have no husband?” But she showed her faith-filled heart by giving all of herself to God in a way that we could never even fathom, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” God greatly delighted in her offering to the point that He became man and came to us in and through Mary’s complete self-offering in faith.
Jesus chose to show us how to embrace our own poverty by becoming a slave of love in the womb of Mary, completely depending on Mary for everything that He needed. Mary on her part learned from Jesus to offer all of herself to Jesus from her own poverty, a poverty that would lead her to stand at the foot of the cross on Calvary, completely unable to change the course of those painful events. Not many appreciated her offering then and many today do not even acknowledge her; but Jesus notices and rewards her for everything that she did and endured for Him.
When the sense of our poverty seems to overwhelm us, when we feel that we do not have what it takes to respond to God’s call, when we feel like others are more gifted than we are, when we feel insignificant and useless, when we feel that we cannot make any difference with what we have, when we feel like nobody notices our appreciates our efforts, we should also do what Jesus did – enter into the womb of Mary and depend on her as her slaves of love. She will surely help us to do what she did so perfectly – offer all from our poverty for the sake of Christ alone, knowing that He looks more at the heart behind the giving rather than the gift itself. He notices all and He will surely reward us with His words of eternal commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy.”(Mt 25:23)
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!