11 November 2018
1 Kings 17:10-16
Coming up to elections in the past it was often seen that those seeking to be elected attended lots of Masses on the Sundays leading up to the vote. In one rural parish a candidate went to 6 Masses over the weekend, with Holy Communion each time seeking to impress the voters that he was a holy man and deserved to be elected. Later it was discovered that he had had a number of mistresses but he wanted to show a public image that he thought would be acceptable.
In the gospel today the Scribes are concerned about their public image too. They wear long robes; want to be seen in the front seats of the synagogues, to have the places of honour at banquets, to make a show of lengthy prayers and to swallow the property of widows. Jesus is quite severe in criticising them because they are living a life of pretence, living a lie.
Are things any different today? Don’t we live in the world of image, the world of advertising where packaging very often is more important than what the package contains? Many politicians, film stars, rich and so called important people in public life; not forgetting some church leaders too, can be slaves to their public image. Wearing designer clothes only, wanting to be seen in public places, at big public gatherings in the company of famous people, undergoing cosmetic surgery may be examples. We may even try to impress our friends by our achievements, the house we live in, the car we have… Do you remember the amount of press coverage that Pope Francis received when he refused to use the Mercedes reserved for the Pope and instead got into an ordinary Ford car? And he still uses it! Are we totally free of this ‘image building’ ourselves? The Italians have a lovely phrase for it: the bella figura! Is there not a bit of the Scribe in us all? Jesus wants us to be free of this type of slavery. That is why he tries to unmask it whenever he meets it.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once filmed in Calcutta among the very poor wearing an old cardigan and an old pair of sandals. Two weeks later she was filmed on TV again, this time visiting the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace. The Queen was obviously delighted to see her and greeted her warmly and they spent a long time chatting to each other. At one stage the TV cameras showed Mother Teresa wearing the same old cardigan and pair of sandals. She clearly had not put on a show to impress the Queen of England. Her obvious goodness showed through and she was content to be herself without any packaging.
But Jesus doesn’t just criticise the Scribes for their public pretence; no, he wants to teach his disciples what is most important in the sight of God and so he draws their attention to a poor widow who put all she had to live on, two small coins into the Temple treasury. Her contribution had practically no value in itself but what Jesus remarked on was that it was all she had to live on. She gave her all to God quietly, without drawing any attention to herself. This was in total contrast to the Scribes parading themselves in public to impress others. A widow at the time of Jesus had no visible means of support. She couldn’t go out and get a job like now since that was not possible, so in giving her all she trusted God totally that somehow or other she would be taken care of. So she was a woman of great generosity and trust in God’s providence. In a sense Jesus is speaking about Himself. He held nothing back from God, from us. He gave his all to God, for us. That is indeed Good News. It cost a lot for the widow to give all. It cost a lot for Jesus to give all. What does it cost us to give ourselves to God and others? We may not have much money to spare, but what of our time, our care and concern for others? Do we spend time with people whom we find boring, unattractive, people from whom there is no gain financially or emotionally?
What set the widow’s offering apart was not just its proportion to her means; there was something in her character that lifted the gift out of routine into the realm of sacrifice. No gift of love is too small, and nothing escapes the notice of God from whom no secrets are hidden.
The readings today tell of two stories of generosity. Both concern two very poor people: two widows. We wonder how someone who was as poor as the widow in the gospel was able to perform such an act of spontaneous goodness. One needs to have been faithful over many years to the practice of generosity to have had a heart like hers. It is not achieved by a few great deeds but by a lot of little ones.
To be confronted by the call of Jesus, whatever the plight of the world or the Church, is to discover that which needs to be done within our reach. Despair of the world or of the Church is a dishonourable escape route leading to nowhere. I would even suggest it is a lazy way to go. Jesus would have none of it. Like the widow he gave all that he had, one life among many. Yet behind and within his life lay the total love of God for each one of us. All the life, death and resurrection of Jesus show what can be achieved, not out of abundance, but out of the very little each may seem to have.
“Lord Jesus, in the gospel today, you present us with a choice. To be a slave to what others think of us and all the games we may choose to play to gain their approval or to be like the poor widow, quietly giving of ourselves generously to God and to others in gratitude to a God who gave his all for us? Help us to choose your way by the power of the Spirit. Amen”.
Fr Jim Kirstein, SMA