Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
Generosity, the third sign of a dynamic Catholic is the overarching theme in the readings of this Sunday. The readings proclaim the good news that God provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. I once heard a story of a single mom with young children. Her ex-husband sent her only a small amount of grocery money every week--so small it couldn’t even feed 1 person, much less her family of 4. But Nancy decided to begin giving to God from her little bit of grocery money and trusting God to provide. Shortly after, she got a job with a cookbook company. The company paid Nancy to go grocery shopping and prepare meals so they could take pictures for their cookbooks. When they were done taking pictures, Nancy could keep the food she had purchased and prepared. That is an amazing story of God’s goodness. Nancy learned that even if you’re poor, you still need to learn to give from whatever you have. I tell this story because it illustrates the message of the readings of this Sunday in which we encounter two widows who give generously out of their poverty. Both like Nancy trust deeply in God who cares for them. In the first reading from the Book of Kings, the widow of Zarephath seems to hesitate first, but when reassured by prophet Elijah, she trusts and hopes in God. “She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry”. The story ends with God multiplying the meal flour and the oil in the jug, “as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.” The widow receives far much more than she gave. The major insight of the message is that the poor tend to be more generous than the rich and thus more blessed by God. Because the widow trusts in God, God miraculously feeds her because of her faith and trust. The poor seem to understand the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs. “Be generous and you will be prosperous; help others and you will be helped.” Prov 11:25
Again in the Gospel we meet another widow at the temple. Jesus challenges us to imitate her and the poor because of their deep faith and trust in God. The main point Jesus makes is not to put the widow and the poor of his time on a pedestal. Rather, Jesus draws four sharp contrasts between the widow’s simple piety and the scribes and Pharisees. First we note that some of these religious leaders tended to be arrogant in their behaviour. Second, unlike the rich who put a lot of money in the Temple treasury out of their surplus, the poor widow gives everything she possesses “her whole livelihood.” Third, this widow is not only honest with God, but she also trusts deeply in God’s providence. That is the kind of generosity God expects from us. Four, the simple piety of the widow is contrasted to the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Such behaviour is contrary to our Christian calling. The point Jesus makes is that the value of what we offer is not necessarily judged by its quantity. Rather, the spiritual disposition of the giver moved by the spirit of self-sacrifice is more important. Any parading of our contributions before others or demanding recognition, renders such gifts to be just a show. There is a striking common thread linking the two widows and Jesus in our reading. Both widows give everything they have to live on, risking their own lives. The real point that Jesus makes is to “beware” of modern day “scribes” who exploit livelihood of the vulnerable like the widow in the passage, while giving from their surplus. So what message do we take home? 1) Like the two widows, our gifts must come from the poverty of our hearts in deep love and trust in God. 2) The Lord provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. 3) Jesus warns us to “beware” of modern day “scribes” who not only give out of their surplus, but also exploit the more vulnerable.
©2015 John S. Mbinda