In our Scriptures for today, I have been led to reflect on giving. In our first reading from 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah has been sent to a widow in Zarephath at a time of drought. When Elijah encounters the widow, she is collecting sticks to build a fire. Elijah asks her for a cup of water, and when she starts to go get it, he also asks for a bit of bread. She then tells the prophet that she has barely enough flour for her son and herself to make one last meal before they both die. Elijah then states God’s promise that she will not run out of flour or oil until it starts to rain again. The widow does as Elijah says, and finds that the prophecy is true.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is at the Temple observing the people contributing to the Temple treasury. When He sees a widow put in a couple of coins, He points her out to the disciples, telling them that she put in more than all the rest, because they had given of their “surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
For me, the actions of both widows exemplify these words from St. Louise de Merillac: “To share what one has is nothing if one does not give oneself.” Neither widow is in what could be called a secure position. There is no “extra” to give without risk. It’s not like going to the casino and giving yourself a limit to spend so as to not jeopardize the rent or mortgage payment. It is not even like coming into some extra cash and deciding to donate it to charity. These two women were at risk! And yet they gave, and the giving went beyond the material value of what they gave.
The widow in Zarephath was a bit hesitant at first, but she wound up trusting God and giving of herself. Not only did she feed Elijah that day, but hosted him for a year! The widow at the Temple also trusted God and gave. And in our second reading from Hebrews, we are reminded that Jesus, “once for all,…appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.” Jesus put His trust in the Father and gave of Himself.
It is clear that we are also called to trust in God and give of ourselves. We are to take the risk of loving. We do this already with our loved ones, our families and friends. But like the widow in Zarephath, we are called to go beyond the circle of those with whom we are most comfortable. There are many opportunities for us to do this, and many people take up those opportunities in volunteer service. November 11 is a day when we honor the sacrifices of our people in the military.
But I write this at a time when the country has received word about yet another mass shooting; after elections that show that divisions continue among us, and amid violence taking place all over the world. Are love and the giving of oneself answers to what is going on? For the life of me, I cannot think of a better answer. To live lives of fear is not the answer. To continue a cycle of vengeance is not the answer. To focus our attention by giving into hate of a certain group instead of addressing the issues of our day is not the answer. For us Christians, the answer is to love and to give as Jesus did, trusting in the love God has for us.
These times reveal to me that the opposite of “give” is not so much “take,” as it is “hoard.” Out of a fear of losing what we have, we try to keep things to ourselves, and do our best to keep others out. I believe the Scriptures call us to something different. Ronald Reagan is often quoted as saying “Trust but verify.” Perhaps we could live by, “Trust and give.”
Fr. Phil, CP