32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
What is total giving? Does the size or amount of the gift matter? Or is it the cost of the gift to the giver?
Two widows in the readings this Sunday showed us the true spirit of giving through their overwhelming generosity. The widow of Zarephath in the first reading was about to bake the last bread for her and her son when the prophet Elijah asked her to share it with him. She obeyed the prophet and did not run out of flour and oil till the famine was over. Another widow in the Gospel gave her last two coins in the temple and was praised by Jesus. These two widows gave lavishly and unconditionally out of their poverty and are immortalized and celebrated in our liturgy as true witnesses of self-giving.
Isn’t it natural to think first of ourselves and our security before others because of survival instinct? Under normal circumstances, it is the way we preserve ourselves and has been the norm in the secular world: “Myself first before others!” The widow of Zarephath could have told Elijah “Why I should share with you our last bread when this is our last meal before we die?” The widow in the gospel could have just given one coin and kept the other one for herself. Both of them had given out of their utter poverty everything they possessed. In the eyes of the world this is sheer madness! It even sounds almost a suicide! But in the eyes of God, it is an offering more acceptable than all the riches given out of surplus.
During mass at the preparation of the gifts on the altar, the priest pours a drop of water into the chalice. Many of us do not even notice it and may look insignificant but it is a very powerful symbol that is full of meaning. When water is mixed with wine it loses its properties and becomes one with the wine. Spiritually, the water represents us when we give ourselves to Jesus who is the wine and we become one with him in sacrifice. Like the two widows, our self-offering becomes acceptable and is transformed by God.
Here are some words of wisdom on giving from Kahlil Gibran from his masterpiece “The Prophet”:
“You give but little when you give your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
There are those who give little of the much which they have and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
And is there ought you would withhold? All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.”
Jesus gave the world more than what the widow had given when He offered Himself in total self-giving on the cross. Many of us give a part of ourselves in many forms of giving every minute of our lives for the sake of the people we love. Worth mentioning is the poustinik in the Russian Orthodox tradition who may sell everything he/she owns, gives the money to the poor, becomes a beggar and dedicates his/her entire life to God in prayer and solitude. There are also those who, for their love of Jesus, give up their lives and career, leave their families and homeland and follow Him. They believe that by giving up everything they own, they will possess true joy in life. They do this because they are madly in love with God and they never count the cost of loving Him.
It is through these people that God truly incarnates Himself once again by loving and giving….