“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood” (Lk 21:3-4).
There are biblical prescriptions for giving a tithe, meaning ten percent. We can see an example of this in the book of Genesis when Abraham offers a tithe of his possessions to the priest Melchizedek in thanksgiving to God for a successful battle and rescue of his nephew Lot (cf. Genesis 28:20-22). Tithing was practiced consistently and this, or the giving of alms, was most likely what Jesus was observing at the temple.
The widow far surpassed giving a simple tithe. Widows in Jesus’ time were often destitute and needed care and support from others. They were often recipients of alms. There was a long tradition in Judaism of the mandate to care for the widow and the orphan. This widow, though giving a significantly smaller amount than the heftier donations by those giving before her, proportionally gave much more, indeed, “her whole livelihood.”
St. Mother Teresa understood these verses very well, especially after receiving her “second call” in which she left her Loretto Convent and went to serve among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Often in her talks, she mentioned giving until it hurts, not from our surplus, but more like the widow. To her, this was true giving.
One of the many examples of giving Mother Teresa witnessed was when she gave a cup of rice to a poor Hindu family. The mother was very grateful for the gift and as soon as she received the rice, she measured out half of her portion and went to her Muslim neighbors to share what she had received. Upon her return, the woman told Mother Teresa, “They are hungry too.”
What impressed Mother Teresa was not that the woman shared the meager amount that she had received, she had often observed the generosity of the poor. She was touched by the fact that this woman was aware of her neighbor’s need.
Mother’s charge to us is, “Are we aware?”
Are we willing to see the needs within our own family as well as the needs of others? If so, are we then willing to share? We do not need to share just monetarily. We can and ought to discern how we can give of our time, talent, and treasure.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ observation and pointing out how the widow “gave more than all the rest” shows us how to participate in the kingdom of God. We are to recognize all that we have is a gift from God and all truly belongs to him. We are simply stewards of what he has given us. This teaching is apparent in the parables of the talents, the gold coins, and Matthew 25 – what you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.
When we are willing to embrace the love of Jesus, he will empower us to be better stewards of our time, talent, and treasure so that all of our life is a participation in the building up of the kingdom of God. In this way, we will see not just poverty, hunger, or immigration, but a person who is poor, a human being who is hungry, a brother or sister who needs help and support to begin a better life. When we are willing to share the love we have received, we will not see just an abstract problem but through the eyes of God we will see the opportunities for new relationships. We will also be more likely to put Mother Teresa’s words into practice, to “give until it hurts with a smile,” so that we too can experience the joy of sharing God’s love.
Photo of St. Mother Teresa that I took when I saw her in Massachusetts in the early ’90s.
Link of video of St Mother Teresa talk at National Prayer Breakfast 1994. Her talk begins at 48:58: https://www.c-span.org/video/?54274-1/national-prayer-breakfast
Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next Sunday will begin Advent and the new year in the Church calendar. In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus offers a parable about the Judgment of the Nations that addresses the key criterion for judgment. Jesus eloquently clarifies what will determine eternal punishment and what will determine eternal life. It comes down to how we treat one another. Are we indifferent, blind to another’s suffering, or are we willing to bother, to get involved, to be, as Fr. James Keenan, S.J. wrote, “willing to enter the chaos of another.”
The gift of our faith is that Christianity is personal. We serve Jesus in being aware of and encountering one another. We are not to be about bringing world peace, ending hunger, providing homes for all. We are instead to treat each person we meet with dignity, to feed someone hungry, and to provide clothes and shelter for someone who has none. We are to see Jesus in our midst: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25:35-37). Jesus commands us to be aware, to accompany, and to make a difference, one life at a time.
We can easily believe that there is so much that needs to be done that no one person can even make a difference. We can easily get overwhelmed with it all. How do we even begin? One place to begin could be to pay attention to our interests and emotions. What do you find you spend your time doing already? When you read or hear a news report, what gets under your skin? This could be God speaking to you, moving you to help. The key is to resist looking out too abstractly or broadly when we are willing to see. Instead, it is more helpful to begin by making a commitment to making a difference one person at a time.
As we draw closer to Advent this week, it would be good to make a commitment to serve Jesus in one another. God is guiding us already, we just need to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a willingness to reach out to one another. A positive step would be to take this week to look back at the year, or month and evaluate how we have done in being aware of where we were willing to enter the chaos of another and where we weren’t. Then for assistance on how we can do better, may we spend some time reading and meditating on the Beatitudes and chapter 25 of Matthew. As Pope Francis said in his 2014 homily these are:
“Few words, simple words, but practical for all. Because Christianity is a practical religion: it is not just to be imagined, it is to be practiced. If you have some time at home today, take the Gospel, Matthew’s Gospel, chapter five. In the beginning, there are the Beatitudes; in chapter 25 the rest. And it will do you good to read them once, twice, three times. Read this programme for holiness. May the Lord give us the grace to understand his message.”
Pope Francis hosts a meal for 1.500 poor and homeless – photo credit: Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane, November 17, 2019