What We Keep For Ourselves We Lose

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

                Jesus Christ reminded us last week that Christian living can be summed up with two commandments: love of God above all things and love of our neighbor as ourselves.  We cannot do this consistently without the help of the Holy Spirit and hopefully you see how these two commandments are connected.  Jesus continues to teach us to not do things for false motives.  He wants us to be true to our word and not just take the best seats and look for the applause of men even in the good things that we do.  It is easy for all of us to fall into this trap because who doesn’t want to be praised?  You and I may feel we don’t get too much of it anyway so let’s grab it while we can.

                In the northern kingdom of Israel God sent a drought as a punishment for the sins of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  Had they humbled themselves before God he would have sent rain to them during those years.   But they didn’t.  To protect Elijah God sent him to Zarephath which is the hometown of Jezebel and the middle of the territory that worshipped their god Baal.  For a Jew this would have been very humiliating.  People in this area were considered very poorly and then Elijah was sent to a woman, a non-Jew who was a widow, and she was going to help him.  What do you think Elijah saying to himself when he heard this?

                This widow is impressive.  She was very industrious.  She didn’t give up even at the end of her life.  She does what she can despite the obstacles.  We find her gathering up sticks when this man in a dusty robe approaches and asks her for water during the time of a drought.   Then he asks for some bread, and then a small cake.  She does something that we ought to imitate: even in her troubles she does what she can.  She doesn’t think of her own needs.  Often when we take our eyes off of our own problems then we can see those in greater need.  God wants you to grow in faith so what does he do?  He allows difficulties where faith is required and where it is exercised, and where it grows.  When all is peaceful and calm we don’t grow in faith.

                The widow didn’t say: fill my jug first and then I will make you a cake.  On the way into the Promised Land Joshua told the priests to walk into the river and the river would stop and they would cross on dry land.  He didn’t stop the river first so that they could walk across.  Faith requires a risk.  It requires that I do something different this time.

                The gospel makes a similar point (Mark 12: 38-44).  Jesus is in the temple in the room where there are thirteen trumpet looking receptacles on a wall for the contributions to the treasury.  Jesus is there observing how people give, in what way do they give, and for what motive they give.  He sees the same with us.  And he is astonished at another widow with two mites, two pennies, and she doesn’t keep one for herself.   She gives all she had to God.  It shows the value Jesus places on wholehearted commitment: give all that you have.

                Jesus is often questioned by his foes, his enemies.  He speaks about them at the beginning of the gospel.  They always question him.  Last week it was which commandment of 613 is the greatest.  The gospel prior to that was should we pay the tax to Caesar or not?  Before that one was a woman was married seven times so at the resurrection of the dead who will be her husband?  We also have foes within us who are always questioning the people around us.  Why did my spouse say that?  Why doesn’t my brother or my son call me?  Why, why, why?

                But this woman is the complete opposite of these religious leaders.  She has complete trust in God.  She doesn’t question anything; she gives all that she has.  The Lord wants us to be like this widow: to show our love for him by giving of ourselves in money, in time, in energy.  It is impressive to see how some people are like this woman in the parish.  No matter what you ask they will take care of it.

                A true disciple sits at the feet of Jesus.  To be a disciple is to be a learner, to see that I don’t know everything and that Christ is my brother.  With him I can live the truth and not endlessly argue about it.