Generosity inspires gratitude, and gratitude inspires generosity. In our lives, the Lord is generous to us, and even increases our ability to give.
It is in this context that Holy Mother Church presents us with two widows in our Mass readings. In the First Book of Kings, we see an example of charity and self-sacrifice in the kind woman who gives Elijah the last of her food. She is rewarded with a miracle.
In Mark’s Gospel, the humble generosity of the second widow, the one with two small coins, receives praise beyond compare from Christ.
Both widows’ poverty of heart and generous services are all the more moving when contrasted with the self-important and self-serving example of other, more disordered souls: Jezebel, the queen, who lives in opulence and vice with total disregard for the needy; and the scribes, who eat up the households of widows and seek the primary places in synagogues.
Jesus strikes out at some of the scribes, the authorized interpreters of the Law who feel they are to be seen as perfect models of that Law down to its smallest details.
Jesus challenges these leaders, calling them hypocrites. They did not hesitate to consume the property of widows while making a show of prolonged prayers; they were the opposite of everything that Jesus was proposing as the way to love and serve God. They emphasized external appearances rather than the inner spirit; they were concerned about being served rather than serving others; they thought only of what they could get through their privileged positions rather than what they could share, especially with those in need.
In fact, Jesus warns that, precisely because of their providential knowledge of the law, their responsibilities in not keeping its real spirit will be all the greater. To whom more is given, more will be expected.
Then, as Jesus was sitting opposite the treasury of the Temple and watching the people putting in their offerings, he sees a poor widow bring her offering. We must remember that during the time of Jesus to be a widow meant the near total loss of income. It is one of these who approaches the treasury box and drops in two coins of seemingly negligible value. This leads Jesus to exhort his disciples and point out that the poor woman had put in more than all the others combined. They were contributing out of their excess, while she put in her whole livelihood. It was an act of total trust in God’s providence and care for her. She put in two coins, although “she would have been more than justified in giving just one.”
This anonymous woman is, in a way, a symbol of Jesus himself in total self-giving.
So the question that today’s Gospel asks us is: “What of my own possessions does Our Lord invite me to share, as he who emptied himself gave away everything, including his life, out of love for his Father and for us?”
The widows in our readings were generous because of their great gratitude. Like the widow who served Elijah, the Lord will multiply our gifts when given in love and hope. Like the widow in our Gospel, we must give generously out of love and gratitude for what we have been given: everything.
Deacon Fabian Moncada Benavides is in formation for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary for the Diocese of Des Moines. His home parishes are Our Lady of the Americas and the Basilica of St. John, both in Des Moines; his teaching parish is St. Rita in Cottage Grove.
Sunday, Nov. 11
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
- 1 Kings 17:10-16
- Hebrews 9:24-28
- Mark 12:38-44
What can I sacrifice or let go of today that will deepen my relationship with Jesus?