32nd Sunday: WIDOW’S MITE: THE SPIRIT MAKES THE GIFT
It is baffling to imagine that Christ would sit by the treasury to watch those who make donations. Not sure what prompted him but he has some lessons for everyone through this act, that God notices the cost of the gift to the donor more than the objective value of the gift. It is not how much we give, rather how much we commit to the course of giving. I call it the spirituality of giving.
We see two widows mentioned in today’s readings -the widow of Zarephath in the first reading, and the widow who gives her mite in the gospel. The widow of Zarephath is used to present a picture of making sacrifices in the extreme realities of life. This woman of Zarephath took a risk of charity and faith at the same time. She gave her last, her all. This case shows that giving can hurt in a positive way when it involves sacrifice. Imagine this woman, having just the last piece of bread for herself and her son with no other hope, then the prophet makes this huge request. It shows that God can try us with our last, with our attachments. Are you able to give in and give up for God just as this woman did? With their experience of drought in the land, it is hard to believe that anything would change because of what the prophet promised. Yet, she takes the risk and believes. This woman teaches us the relationship between faith and charity. St. Paul reminds us, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). Her jar of flour was multiplied because she stretched herself for the cause of charity.
Mother Teresa would say, "It isn't how much we give, but how much love is put into the giving.” Therefore, the widow stood out in the gospel. In the midst of varying degrees of rich men giving their surplus and being noisy about it, the widow is a nobody. She is anonymous in the crowd. She sneaks in to drop her very little offering, perhaps not knowing that Christ is watching. But she gives with love, gives her mite. Christ spots her and explains to the disciples, “but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mk. 12:44).
When we read the scriptures there is always a deeper message. Widows in the Old Testament and in the time of Jesus had no one to protect them. They were particularly vulnerable. There is a heroic faith and trust in God going on in both stories. Heroic faith and trust bring miracles. In the gospel of Matthew, the apostles were unable to cast out a demon and asked Jesus why. He responds, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20).”
The widow in the gospel today gave from her poverty. Mark the phrase, “from her poverty.” That’s an interesting perspective. Have you ever thought about your own poverty? We’re all impoverished on some level. Earth isn’t called a valley of tears without reasons. We are poor before God, but do we realize it? And it pays off to give from our poverty, our humility, our dependence on God, hence Christ says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
There is a great difference between the gift and the spirit of the giver. Gifts are impactful when they come from a humble, genuine, and sacrificial spirit. Inspiringly, we have several men and women with great spirits of giving today. Personally, I have been privileged to work with such persons- individuals who just want to give silently, individuals who want to maintain real low profiles in/with what they do. They enjoy being spotted by God rather than being praised by men. Christ uses this widow to cancel the spirit of exhibitionism in giving by calling out the scribes for their flamboyance, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.” Christ abhors such prideful spirit because of putting up a façade. They give to influence rules and policies. They brandish themselves and sometimes take advantage of the poorer members of the community. Their gifts are present, but the right spirit is missing. The message is that the giver can get lost in the gift. Have you ever been angry that you’re not recognized for your donation?
Some time ago, I referenced in my homily the attitude of giving in/to the church. Imagine that someone could attack a priest for his homily and threaten to withdraw his donation from the church. That is not an isolated case because we have heard such a few times in the past. Men like these are like the rich people in the gospel dolling out large sums of money and imagining that there is a need to give them special recognition for their gift. Christ tells us today, putting large sums is good but putting large spirit far outweighs the gift. It is important to identify the right spirit and to shun the spirit of ostentation when we support the church with our donation. Scripture says, “a humble and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
Today’s invitation is simple, to imitate the spirit of the widow. The widow’s spirit inspires sacrifice. The first widow stretched herself to feed the prophet. She relied on God amid scarcity. The second widow gave her mite. She gave from her poverty, not from her surplus. She gave in humility. These two biblical women should challenge our disposition in giving and in doing acts of charity. So, if I should ask you, do you put enough love in your giving? Are you able to give even when it hurts? Can you say of yourself, that you give your widow’s mite? Can you make your spirit of giving better than your gift?
We have to bring our mite in total trust and surrender that God will provide as the widow believed. This can bring miracles or can be where some people get stuck. Sometimes the mindset is, “God, I’ll trust you as long as everything works out the way I want it to.” It doesn’t work that way. We have to be all in with the Lord. He doesn’t want a half-hearted relationship. When you come up for Holy Communion, you are approaching the living God who has the power to save and heal you. Come up with trust and abandon. Give him your poverty. It will probably require that you bring it to him each day but like the widow, do it with total trust and he will provide. If you need to go to confession first, then bring it to the sacrament. Keep bringing it to God and as the psalm, today says, “The Lord sets the captives free.” The depth of change in our encounter with the Holy Communion is huge, but the change requires you to surrender. You come to the Lord poor and you leave rich.