32 Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 12:41-44
“ I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to buy just a little of the Lord.
Not enough to explode my soul and disturb my sleep.
Not enough to take control of my life.
I want just enough to equal a cup of warm milk.
Just enough to ease some of the pain from my guilt…”
The words of this poem, written by Wilbur Rees, reflect the difficulty that each of us has in surrendering ourselves totally to the care, mercy and love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Unlike the widow spoken of in Mark’s Gospel (12:38-44), most of us find it too difficult to abandon the comfort and false sense of security that our possessions give us. This woman, desperately poor in material wealth, “…out of her poverty put in everything, all she had to live on”, a few pennies that she gave in faith to the temple treasury, while others gave merely out of their abundance.
Our attitude is rather the following:
“I would like to purchase a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
If it doesn’t work, I would like to get my money back”?
A government social worker was visiting New England farms. He had the authority to give federal dollars to poor farmers. He found an elderly widow farming a few acres. Her house was clean but tiny. There did not appear to be much food in the house. The windows had no screens to keep out the summer flies. The exterior needed a paint job. He wondered how she could survive. He asked, "What would you do if the government gave you five hundred dollars?" Her answer was, "I would give it to the poor."
She was similar to the widow whom Daniel Webster had in mind. He was asked, "What moved you to become a Christian?" He replied, "Studying the way an old woman in New Hampshire lived."
The women of these two stories had much in common with today's Gospel widow. They were obviously cut out of the same bolt of exquisite damask. All three have much to tell us.
Our comparative tightness with our dollars comes despite Rousseau's admonition. "When a man dies, he carries in his hands only that which he has given away." We would do well to recall the question asked about the wealthy man who died. "How much money did he leave? The answer came promptly. "All of it!"
Research by Patrick Carney revealed that the highest percentage of Catholic contributions in the New York diocese comes from African-Americans in Central Harlem. Perhaps they have in mind Paul's advice in 2 Corinthians 9:7, "God loves a cheerful giver." Too often the comfortable give to God as though they were poor. And the poor give to Him as though they were wealthy.
Do most Catholics give a fair share of their income to the Church and to charities? A Gallup poll answered that query. In a recent year, American Catholics gave 1.3% of their income to parish and charities. But Protestants gave 2.4% and Jews 3.8%.
Someone has enumerated four different types of giving.
The first is called grudge giving. I hate to part with this twenty dollars but I will.
The second is shame giving. I must match whatever the Jones family is giving.
The third is calculated giving. We part with our money with what, someone deliciously called, a "lively sense of favours to come." Bingos, Las Vegas nights, and raffle tickets fit in very nicely in this category.
The final category is thanksgiving. I part with my funds precisely because God has been so wonderfully generous to me. The widow of today's Gospel fits comfortably into this area.
Now, returning to the widow of the Gospel reading, Jesus’ statement that she gave from her poverty her whole livelihood, could be seen as a praise of her generosity. It could also be seen as a condemnation of society who had left her so destitute that she, like the widow of Zeraphath, had nothing left to rely on than her certain death. The others gave from their surplus, she gave all that she had left. How had this happened? Had bankers mismanaged her money so that she had lost the little she had? Had religious leaders encouraged her to impoverish herself for the sake of the Temple treasury?
How had it happened that society could take advantage of the destitute? How does it happen that society continues to take advantage of those who have no protection?
Indeed, the strength of a society is measured by the care it gives to its weakest members.
There is a striking contrast between the poor widow described in the second part of today's Gospel and the Scribes and Pharisees in the first part. The simple piety of this woman of no social standing is contrasted with the arrogance and social ambitions of some so-called religious leaders. She is also contrasted with the rich donors ostentatiously offering money they can easily afford. It is doubtful that what they gave involved even the slightest diminution in their standard of living.
How often have we foregone a vacation, or a weekend away or even a single meal in a restaurant because the money for it was given to people who were living on the edge of survival? Again, the Gospel is pointing the finger at us and not to people who lived a long time ago.
A daring act of trust
This poor woman, in a daring act of trust in God's providence, put into the treasury everything she had -- and it was next to nothing. She had two small coins. She put in both. She could have kept one for herself. But the service of God can never be in half measures.
The First Reading from the First Book of Kings has a similar story. It also features a poor widow and her son. Reduced to absolute penury she is on her way to get firewood to cook a last meal for them both from a little meal and oil, all that she has left. She sees nothing but death before them. Then Elijah, the prophet, himself hungry, comes and asks her for water and bread. When she tells him her situation, he still asks her to make a small scone for him. In a generous act of sharing, she does so and she is rewarded by their being enough for all three of them and the jar of meal and the jug of oil does not empty until the drought is over. The message is clear: when everyone gives, everyone receives.