Grace to you!
It could’ve been an exciting day when our Savior Jesus Christ sat after His triumphant, though precarious, entrance into Jerusalem. Earlier, the priests, scribes and elders questioned his authority for trying to cleanse the Father’s temple (Mk 11:15-19). A barrage of skeptical interrogations began, from irrelevant political questions and allegations, to a more theological curiosity about life after death and Jesus’ identity as the Christ. The Lord provided fascinating and life-saving insights about life and the world to come (see Mk 11-12:20-37).
Next, he addressed the hypocrisy of the scribes head on: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (Mk 12:38-40).”
The Lord set the stage for the great lesson to follow, in stark contrast to the ostentatious pride of some of the synagogue's leading men. Looking into the treasury during the offering, he found many wealthy people putting in large sums of money. At a section of the court of women, there were thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes where one may put offerings. Each box wore inscriptions describing, in brief, the purpose for which the offerings were made and the ministries or charities they fund. People were free to drop their offerings into the box for the ministry they wanted to support. Thus, Jesus observed how people gave so comparably little for what they loved so much. An irony!
Fat envelopes from the wealthy may have impressed the priest. Which pastor does not want big donations from the wealthy? But Jesus saw it differently. He was keen to see a pure gift, a gift that costs the giver something; a gift given without reserve; a holy sacrifice; a gift from the humble heart. In short, he was looking for a gift given with pure love and sacrifice. The Lord was not measuring the volume of the gift, but its quality. He wasn’t against the wealthy.
As each of the wealthy dropped off bags of huge coins, he looked through their minds and savings. He knows us through and through (Psalm 139). He knows and sees what is done in secret (Matt. 6:4). He found they gave little from their surpluses. In effect, their gift was less of a sacrifice than it was a routine giveaway of some benefits of windfall. They were handouts to God’s cause. Handouts to works of charity. Handouts to the ministries they claim to love so much.
Then a poor widow approached the treasury. She was not like any other in many ways. Luke describes her with two Greek adjectives denoting different levels of poverty in two successive verses of the Bible. First, she was described as a “poor” widow (Luke 21: 2). Next, she was described as abjectly and visibly poor (Lk 21:3). In spite of her unquestionable poverty, this widow offered to God all she had, all she had to live on. She made a sacrifice to God. God, who sees the heart, spoke about the wealth of her sacrifice: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living” (Mk 12:44). The woman was an immortalized example of someone who gives back to life, because she gives back to the Giver of Life. She believed she had come to give back, and in turn she received divine approval. In other words, she gave her heart, her all, her life. In her sacrifice, the poor widow could be compared to yet another woman, the Zarephath woman, whose story we read from 1 kings17:10-16.
Compare their example with many of ours. More often than we like to hoard. Even if we give back, many times it is with some ulterior motive of benefits from someone else. When we offer things to God or to the poor, we must have a tax-break; otherwise, we couldn’t possibly give. When we donate to hospitals or other nonprofit organizations, there must be public recognition, maybe on stone marbles, without which we could never again give to those organizations.
The above example of the widow is a clear and challenging principle to spiritual growth. We receive the measure we give (Lk 6:38). What we put into life is what we get out of life. It is as simple as that!
Scripture describes pure and unspoiled religion as follows:
“To visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).”
“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’ (Isaiah 58: 7-9).”
Praying that God will give us the grace to give from the heart and with a sense of sacrifice. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thirty Second Week Ordinary Time B: 1 Kg 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44 or 12:41-44]
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.