THIRTY- SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Offer Oneself Wholeheartedly with Utmost Care and Vigor
First Reading : (1 Kgs 17:10-16): The widow makes bread for Elijah.
Second Reading : (Heb 9:24-28): Christ's sacrifice is eternal and once and for all.
Gospel : (Mk 12:38-44): Jesus criticizes the Scribes and praises the widow
Chinese Classics :
“The words of Confucius were spread throughout the world but Confucius' way of action did not
-“Having the reputation of a hermit but the heart of a business man; speaking of morals and ethics but thinking about illicit behavior.” (2) .
“Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mk 12: 41-44)
We are all familiar with the story of the widow's mite. But we seldom pay much attention to another incident prior to it or link the two together.
If we use the longer version of today's Gospel Reading, we will see that before Jesus praised the widow, he had criticized the Scribes: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. (Mk 12: 38-40).
Compared with the humble widow, the Scribes were self-righteous, self-centered and arrogant. Compared with the generous widow, they were mean and greedy. Arrogance only hurts oneself, but to devour what belongs to another, especially the property of a widow who has no one on whom to depend, is a grave sin against God as it brings calamity to the innocent.
The Scribes were knowledgeable people. They especially had much knowledge of religion, but they were publicly repudiating the spirit of their religion. Worst of all, they “for the sake of appearance said long prayers!” Perhaps this is what they wished to tell others or deceive them, at the same time deceiving themselves, saying to themselves, ‘Would those who are pledged to God perform evil deeds? Or would those who do evil know how to pray?’
People manipulate religion in the same way that culture or knowledge is manipulated. In the Song Dynasty Li Gou lamented, “the words of Confucius were spread all over the world. But Confucius’ way of behavior did not prevail.”(1) The Ming scholar Li Zhi, a friend of Matteo Ricci, thought that many people had “the reputation of a hermit but the heart of a business man; they spoke of morals and ethics but were thinking about illicit behavior.”(2). Such people externally appear very refined but deep down they are quite vulgar. They speak about the virtues of kindness and righteousness, but in their hearts they are always thinking of illicit acts.
Compared with such despicable people the widow's character and behavior were like a lotus flower which grows from the mud but is not soiled. Jesus' acclamation of praise for her perhaps also tells us that this kind of person is truly a rare creature hard to find.
Her heart and all that she was and had belonged to God. She gave a sincere and whole-hearted offering. She put God first. This was truly carrying out concretely God's first commandment: “to worship God above all things.”
Wealth is external to ourselves: we do not bring it into life at birth, we do not take it with us at death. But how we use wealth can be an indication of one's faith and beliefs and the priorities of one's values.
There are some Catholics today who when they give their Offertory contribution indirectly act as if the church and even God are beggars. Before they contribute, they look to see what money remains in their pockets, then rather grudgingly choose a few coins to put in the collection basket.
To make an offering is really part of gratitude. We acknowledge that everything comes from God and all should be returned to God. The Book of Leviticus says, “All tithes (one-tenth) from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord's; they are holy to the Lord.” (Lev 27:30) This is the origin of ‘tithing’ in the Old Testament. By it we acknowledge that all our possessions really come from the Lord and we must plan concretely how to return them to God, offering up a significant portion of them. This refers not only to money, but it means also that we ‘set aside for God a portion’ of our time, abilities and love. With the utmost sincerity we contribute these to and for the church and other human beings.
If some of us feel that ‘offering our entire being’ or ‘generously make an offering’ or ‘voluntarily making an offering,’ etc are abstract concepts, the next time we contribute we might try ‘contributing to the point of painfulness.’ That would be true generosity.
In Chapters 8 and 9 of the Second Epistles to the Corinthians, Paul greatly praised the generosity of the church of Macedonia. He said, “We want you to know about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia, for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.” (2 Cor 8: 1-4). Imploring others to ‘come and share all that we have’ truly shows a spirit of keen insight – what a great indication of love!
We must put forth heartfelt efforts when we contribute and share. It is good to talk about ‘spiritual matters’ but we must not forget material goods. Perhaps this is what Hong Kong people call ‘combining heart and gold.’