Readings: First Book of Kings 17:10-16; Letter to the Hebrews 9:24-28; Gospel According to Saint Mark 12:38-44
In the Gospel passage for this Sunday’s Mass, Jesus gives a clear warning against the very human tendency of seeking our own glory. In other words, parading around to be noticed or praised, looking for the best places to sit and going after the finest in any and every thing, is not the way of the follower of Christ.
It is a human enough tendency to look out for number one, and in fact our culture extols this approach as normal and laudable, but it is not the way of Jesus Christ. The concern of the follower of Jesus is the opposite of all self-seeking, vanity and pride.
Followers of Jesus are to be seekers of the way of self-forgetfulness and humility. The search for God excludes placing oneself at the center of the universe.
The Christian message is something very different from a self-centered culture. We are being called to forget self, what Jesus calls, “losing our life,” and putting the good of others ahead of self, believing that in doing so we in fact will find our true self.
This is a matter of the heart and a matter of faith, and the whole point is: we live by the certainty, rooted in faith, that our life is meant to be more than health, wealth and beauty, and is actually all about forgetting oneself, promoting the good of others and growing in communion with God and neighbor in the process.
Christ tells us that the one who humbles self will be exalted by God and the one who exalts self will ultimately be humbled, that is, left with nothing. In the Gospel story certain scribes are chided for their arrogance and pretense, so full of themselves they could not love others. The point is not, “aren’t scribes bad?” Rather, it is about how much am I like what Jesus is describing? Am I unable to see the good in others and not extending love to my neighbor? Am I too preoccupied with my own world, where nothing and no one else really makes an impression or inroad?
Jesus is clear in the Gospel and makes a forceful point against the natural tendency in humans of seeking self, constructing altars to oneself, when in fact we’re being called to worship God alone, our Maker and Savior. Christ must be placed in the center of our lives, allowed to dwell at the core of our being, as the One who alone can fulfill our deepest longings for happiness and peace.
In the second part of the Gospel today, Jesus extols the example of a widow, poor and ignored, who in fact has the right perspective on life by placing all her hope in God. Even the little she has she is willing to forfeit, for the good of unknown others. In this sense, she is anything but poor. She is actually rich, but in virtue, by forgetting her own needs and preferring the good of others.
In the first reading of Mass for this Sunday, we hear about another widow, equally attuned to helping others, and who is a blessing to the prophet Elijah, who in turns blesses her in the name of the Lord. Elijah is able to provide her with what she really needs, God’s blessing. God rewards the generosity of the widow of Zarephath, who in dying to self and who lives for God alone.
We are presented with two fine examples in the Gospel this Sunday that speak more eloquently than many words can, about the meaning of placing our hope in God. It is done without fear of losing out or preoccupation with what it is going the cost in terms of time and investment of energy.
If God watches over the birds of the air and flowers of the field, what about all the beloved sons and daughters of God? This is Jesus’ message. God is greater and more generous than we can ever imagine, so we should not hesitate to lay our life on the line, confident and unafraid of the consequences of forgetting self to more readily remember God and the many benefits received in the past, up the present, and presumably into the future.
The widow at Jerusalem tossed into the collection box at the temple a couple of copper coins, hardly worth mentioning its value. In comparison with others, her giving was miniscule. But she is praised, for she gave from her want, not her surplus wealth. In that sense she gave much more, though on a completely different level, for her giving was the expression of sacrifice, an act of generosity, of her very self and that which was dear to her.
Others at the temple also gave, but with no need to worry about what they were offering, for it was over and above what they needed to live on. Our Lord does not condemn them, but says there is a better way to give, and that is from the depths of the heart, where it hurts and where no adulation will accompany the giving. This was the way of the widow at the temple.
There is a saying that goes something like this: the heart that gives only a little really gives nothing. To give everything that we have, like the poor widows we have been reflecting on, is what God wants of us. A divided heart is not what we want to have, but a heart that gives everything we possess.
The widow of Zarephath and the widow in Jerusalem are set before us as examples of giving without counting the cost. The little they may have been able to give, some water and a little bread or two small coins, are of immense value in God’s eyes. What is behind the gift, more than the gift itself, is what truly matters. The kind word or deed, done with no reward in sight, is of much more value than the finest gift of silver or gold.
Are we ready to give with love, generosity and sacrifice? If we are and do, we shall not want in this life or in the next.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB