From our First and Gospel readings we hear about the faith of two widows. In biblical times widows were among the poorest of the poor. The widow in the First Reading was a non-Jew, who had a son to support. She was down to her last handful of meal and a drop of olive oil. After that she and her son must starve to death. Yet, by sharing it with the prophet, the man of God, she had a never-ending supply of flour and oil. The widow from our Gospel passage let go of every shred of security, and committed herself wholly to God. These two stories are as much about trust in God as about generosity.
Let’s play a game for a second. I’ll call it the Category Game. I’ll ask you questions that have only two possible answers. Think in your mind which answers you would give.
Are you a good friend or a bad friend?
Do you have common sense or no common sense?
Are you a good driver or a terrible one?
Are you responsible or irresponsible?
Can you keep people’s secrets or not?
Are you a hardworking employee or a lazy one?
Do you have good taste (in clothes, food, movies, etc . . .) or not?
Are you a fair person or unfair?
Are you honest or a liar?
And one more . . . are you wealthy or not?
Was that a hard test? My guess is that many of you would say no. After all, most of our lists probably looked something like this: Good friend, common sense, good driver, responsible, trustworthy, hardworking, good sense of style, fair, and honest. And while that might be true for a few of us, it’s extremely unlikely that it is true for all of us. Most people prefer to see themselves in the best light possible, overlooking their own faults and limitations. Deep down we probably know that our image of ourselves can be a little skewed, but we choose to stay closer to the surface. It’s less painful that way.
But what about that last one, the one I left off my recap? And truthfully, for most of us, it was the easiest one. Am I wealthy or not? Are you wealthy or not? Are we wealthy or not? Of course we’re not wealthy. You could say that you don’t have a summer home in Switzerland and you don’t drive a car that costs a quarter of a million dollars. You don’t fly off to Paris for lunch and to Rio for a couple of days on the beach. You don’t own an island or a jet or a fifty-foot yacht. That’s what being wealthy is!
We’re always a little amazed that when you talk to people who are quite well off, they always consider themselves to be “middle class”. No one wants to admit that they have WAY more money than most people, no one wants to admit that they are “wealthy”. That’s one “category” many of us strive all our lives to be in, but then deny we are “in” it when we get there. Funny how that works. But I digress. Maybe it’s the objection to my use of the word “wealthy”. Maybe that word just has too many negative connotations for some of us. Let me ask it another way:
Are you a “have” or a “have-not”?
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all
the other contributors to the treasury.”
This Gospel story from Mark is one that makes many of us pretty uncomfortable. After all, one person in the story gave all she had, and others gave just some of the “extra” they had, and well, I know which category I fall into. Maybe you fall into that same category. I give a little here and there. I think about what I can “afford” before I make a donation. (Of course, what I can “afford” is always less than what I REALLY can “afford”). And I worry that God is disappointed in me, unhappy that I’m not more like the poor widow in the story.
One may ask. How was she able to do what she did?
My guess is that maybe (surprisingly) she didn’t really consider herself to be poor, didn’t consider herself to be a have-not – at least when it came to the things that truly mattered. She had plenty. She had more than enough, because the only thing that was important to her was doing the right thing, a good thing, a loving thing, a generous thing, a God-like thing. She wasn’t worried about what made the most “practical” sense. She wasn’t worried about being broke – because, what she was ultimately giving was love – and maybe she knew that would never run out. As sticker on one preacher’s car says, “there’s no shortage of the love of God”.
My dear people of God, it’s probably somewhat okay if we delude ourselves into believing we are good drivers or we have a great sense of humor or are fair and honest and hardworking and a great friend. Most of us tell ourselves those lies. And it’s also probably okay if we keep telling ourselves we aren’t financially wealthy when we really are. After all, that’s just a word.
But as Christians, as disciples or followers of Jesus, we must consider ourselves wealthy when it comes to the things of God, must consider ourselves wealthy when it comes to what it takes to do whatever God is asking of us. Like increasing our financial support to the running of our church. And these are the sorts of things that can never run out – things like mercy, kindness, love, compassion, forgiveness. In other words, we can love and love and love some more – and God will make sure that we still have plenty to give, because His love has no limits.
And so, let’s not try to figure out how much we “have”. Let’s just give it all and trust that God will be pleased . . . and will provide.
A Short Story
Mother Teresa told a story of how one day she was walking down the street when a beggar came up to her and said, ‘Mother Teresa, everybody is giving to you, I also want to give to you. Today, for the whole day, I got only thirty cents. I want to give it to you.’
Mother Teresa thought for a moment: ‘If I take the thirty cents he will have nothing to eat tonight, and if I don’t take it I’ll hurt his feelings. So I put out my hands and took the money. I’ve never seen such joy on anybody’s face as I saw on the face of that beggar at the thought that he too could give to Mother Teresa’.
Mother Teresa went on: ‘It was a big sacrifice for the poor man, who had sat in the sun all day long and received only thirty cents. It was beautiful. Thirty cents is such a small amount, and I can get nothing out of it, but as he gave it up and I took it, it became like thousands because it was given with so much love.
My dear friends, the truth is that God looks, not at the greatness of the work, but at the love with which it is performed.’