10 November 2012

SHE GAVE NOT BECAUSE SHE KNEW HE WAS LOOKING

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 12:38-44 (1 Kgs 17:10-16 / Ps 146 / Heb 9:24-28)


After preparing for this homily, I sat in front of my computer to start writing my reflections.  But instead of the usual ease with which I write my thoughts, this time, I seemed to struggle through.  It seemed to me that I could say nothing really new about the theme of today’s readings.

We all know the story of the poor widow in the Gospel today.  She gave not from her surplus but from her want.  She offered to God everything because she gave Him all that she had.  She had two coins.  She could have offered only one and kept the other to herself, with the reasoning that she also needed it for herself.  If she did so, she would not be blamed neither should she be condemned.  But she gave both her coins, she gave her all.  Hence, Jesus praised her and exalted her before His disciples as the epitome of generosity.  With this incident, Jesus clearly set the standard for generosity.

Generosity is not measured by the quantity of what is given but by the quality of the giver’s heart.  We are therefore mistaken to immediately regard someone who donates a handsome amount of money to the church or to some charitable institution as generous.  That person is indeed kind, but a truly generous person is one who gives all that he or she has.  Of course, one who has two million pesos, for example, can give away one million pesos because he still has another million in the bank which, by the way, over a period of time, may not only double but even triple.  That same person becomes generous only when he gives his two million pesos rather than half of it, when he gives all that he has and not just a part of it.  Certainly, the world cannot understand such a definition of generosity and, given such a definition, judges the truly generous as foolish.  Thus, by the standards of the world, both the widow in the Gospel and the widow of Zarephath in the first reading today are not only imprudent with their resources but are foolish.  How much more foolish, in the eyes of this world, are those who strive to follow their examples!  Are we foolish enough to be like these two widows?

The original fool is the One who once hung on the cross but is now gloriously alive: Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8).  As the second reading today reminds us, Christ Jesus offered to God, to take away the sins of many, not some sacrificial animal, but His very own blood instead.  Indeed, Jesus is our ideal for generosity.  He gave us everything: His life.  We, disciples of Jesus, if we are truly honest with our desire to become like Jesus, are called to give until it hurts, until nothing is left to us, until like fools we have squandered all for God, because Jesus Himself was the first to have emptied Himself for love of us and of God His Father.  This is very crucial for us because the ultimate joy of any disciple is to become like his master, and Jesus is our Master.

Am afraid that, for most of you, I have said nothing new so far; but the blame is only on me and never on the Word of God that is always alive and fresh.  I have limitations, too.  But before I end, let me point to one thing in the Gospel which may have escaped our keen attention and, thus, prove to be something new for all of us.

When the poor widow dropped her two small coins, I wonder if she was aware that Jesus was observing her.  Did she notice that Jesus noticed her?  Did she see Jesus looking?  Am sure that she was conscious of what she gave – for why would she not be when what she gave was all that she had to live on – but was she mindful of Jesus praising her for her gift?  Did it even matter to her that her generosity would put her above the other contributors to the Temple’s coffers?

Apparently, the Gospel does not answer my questions.  But for whatever answers the Gospel may provide, the poor widow nonetheless gave what she intended to give and, as already stressed, she gave all she had.  Whether seen or unseen, whether she is being observed or not, whether she would be praised, thanked, and appreciated or not, whether she knew Jesus or not, whether she would appear better than others or not, the poor widow simply offered her gift.

For those who enjoy being adulated for their kindness, for those who glorify in holding their beneficiaries eternally indebted to them, for those who would give better when observed but not when unnoticed, for those who are bent on comparing their so-called “generosity” with that of others’, this point is, for me, worth mentioning and, for us all, worth pondering on.  Were it the only point of my homily, still it is worth preaching: the poor widow gave everything she had even without knowing that she was being observed.  She gave not because she knew Jesus was looking.  In fact, she probably didn’t know.  But she gave nonetheless.

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