Giving Everything You Have
In this beautiful homily for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly suggests that everything you have should be given away in one way or another — especially yourself.
First Reading: First Kings 17:10-16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44 or 12:41-44
Today’s readings are from the Book of Wisdom and from the Gospel, the Gospel according to St Mark. They’re all about two women, two very famous women, two women that are separated by seven centuries.
Though they lived almost seven centuries apart, they are joined together by their faith, of course, and sacrifice and generosity and love — the four cornerstones of virtuous people who really should be always remembered. And yet their names are forgotten. Nobody ever took their names down. And yet we shall see because I’ll read what kind of ladies they were.
It doesn’t say this, but at the beginning of the First Reading, from the Book of Kings, Elijah the prophet comes first.
Elijah the prophet was a non-writing prophet, therefore he was not too well known in terms of years later when all the great major and minor prophets did their work.
Elijah was the beginning, and Elijah was such a great prophet that you might say, single-handedly, he dragged the whole of the children of Israel, who had gone astray believing in all kinds of things, in the Baals and got involved in all kinds of stuff, and he brought them back where they belonged, which was to the Lord God.
And so, even though he never wrote anything, he is considered perhaps the greatest of all the prophets.
And so today we find him at the very beginning. He comes into the Bible rather quickly. All of a sudden, there is Elijah, and he begins his ministry.
Now Elijah was on his way, going up to Phoenicia. Phoenicia, as you know, was the northern part of Palestine. And, on his way, he was leaving the centre of Israel for very good reason: because there was total and complete famine already for two years and this famine was considered by many their own punishment for turning away from God and worshiping all kinds of nonsense.
And so he was leaving Israel to show it. He also agreed that this was not the way God’s people should be behaving.
Now he went up to Sidon. In the city of Zarephath, he saw at the gate there was a lady collecting, a widow, she was collecting sticks. And the reason she was collecting sticks he didn’t know, so he said to her as he arrived at the entrance of the city, he said to her,
“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
Well, this is a kind of a very interesting way to introduce yourself, especially since Jews never talked to foreigners – this lady was not a Jew, she was a foreigner.
She answered, “As the Lord, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die”
because there’s nothing left.
Elijah says to the woman a very famous beginning,
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.
You know, these are the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples. He spoke to them when they became frightened when he had risen from the dead and they couldn’t understand it and they were worried that maybe they were seeing things, and he said, “Do not be afraid.”
Elijah then said to her,
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
This is kind of silly to ask. Here he comes and first he asks for bread.
Now we all know how Jesus took the bread and blessed it and passed it out to thousands of people in one wonderful afternoon on the mountain to show that God was with them.
And this is what Elijah is saying: “First, I will show you, you must learn to give before you yourself take.” And he said, “And this is the sign that God is with us.”
God gives to us, and what are we supposed to do?
We’re supposed to give it to other people.
And this sort of runs all through the Old Testament and the New Testament as a sign.
“Do not be afraid,
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
Now this is the nice part, he said, “If you wait on me, you should prepare something for yourself and for your son,” you see. He’s testing her. She’s got hardly anything at all and he’s asking her for every piece of it for himself, you see.
Then he knows that she’s very upset, so what he says to her is…
She doesn’t really say anything, she’s just gasping at him – he’s going to take the last meal from my son and me.
And then he says to her, “Don’t be afraid.”
But then he says,
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
It rhymes, you see.
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'”
And this is quoted again and again and again: “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.”
And she looked at him and what happened was she not only thanked him, but invited him to her home.
And for one year, the great prophet, she and her son and the prophet had full meals until the rains came at the end, and then he went on his way to another place.
If there’s any kind of lesson that comes from this, it’s the main…
Somebody once said if you have any little motto to put up, this is only for people who are poor and are frightened and they don’t have enough to eat, or they’re worried about this and they’re worried about that.
But you could make it in a larger sense just worrying about life. We were afraid that we were going to lose Hong Kong and it’s going to disappear, or something or other, and is it worth all of this, and blah, blah, blah, and on and on.
And Elijah the prophet would suggest that you put on your wall: “The Lord has promised you the jar of flour shall not go empty, nor jug of oil run dry.”
And the Jews look upon this, and the Christians look upon this, and in times of great trouble when everything seems to fall apart, nothing is going right, we must remember that it is God who directs our lives. And we must not panic, no matter how bad it gets, and we must not worry, because there’s nothing we can do.
But we must listen to Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid. There will always be God to take care of you.”
And that ends the introduction to the second one.
The second one today, of course, is the one you all know, is the widow’s mite.
If you go to Israel, you can get a whole bag of mites, little coins about this big. They’re worth about a halfpenny or one half of a halfpenny, almost worthless. But a mite, at that time, the widow’s mite, was something you could buy a meal with. That would have been a pretty cheap little coin. So remember that when we talk about the widow’s mite.
Jesus, now, is in the temple. And in the temple, there’s two parts. There’s the inner temple, which is more sacred. And before you go into the inner temple, they have like these horns, and you throw your money into the horn and it slips down into the basket at the bottom, then someone collects it. So that’s the way people used to give alms in the temples. They were outside the temple, but sitting there they’d pass the money through.
The other thing to remember is in the story is Jesus comes from preaching at the court of (inaudible) and he walks over and sits down and watches people putting money in these horns. And it seems like there’s a lot of attraction to see who has put in how much money into the horns.
Jesus sits there for a while and then that’s where the Gospel begins. It says,
He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
and then remarks that many rich people put a great deal, a large deal of sums into the horns, you know, as a donation.
And the poor widow came. And there she was a raggedy little lady and she put, in front of Jesus, who was sitting there waiting for her, she put her money, two coins, really not worth anything. And she put them down and then walked away.
And then Jesus called his disciples, he called his disciples. That means that this is for “all the people who will believe in me and listen to my word and care about me on through the ages, not just a few folks in heaven or say a few prayers in the temple.” And this is what he says to his disciples
“Amen, I say to you,
That means pay strict attention.
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
That’s pretty big, because they were putting in large sums. It was the day before a holiday. Everybody was (inaudible) and some of them were very superstitious. You know: if you don’t give a lot of money then God’s going to do something terrible to you so you have no peace. And others just give it out of generosity and love.
Anyhow then Jesus continues,
” For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”
That’s really special.
And the other thought is that everything (inaudible), taking everything you have and giving it away. (Inaudible).
Because everything you have, you shouldn’t hold onto so that nobody can take it away from you.
Everything you have should be given away in one way or another.
Especially yourself. You have to give yourself away with all the stuff. And when you give yourself away, then the stuff doesn’t matter. And that’s the trick. It’s not a trick; it’s part of Christianity.
God gives, Jesus gives, we give.
Well, you can get obsessive about it and give everything.
And what do we say?
We honour you.
We don’t say, “He’s crazy.”
But today a lot of people say, “If you do that, you’re crazy.”
You’re not crazy. If you give everything to others and to God, then you’re like God. You’re like God, because He gives everything to us, and we give everything back.
A Christian is somebody who takes the love of God, the generosity of God, and the sacrifice of God, like Jesus on the cross, takes it all, and doesn’t say, “Thank you very much,” and then put it in the garage, he passes it on. He, too, now must sacrifice and love and give and all of these things.
And this is a wonderful example and this is why it’s said the way it’s said. Because Mark is a man of few words and he wants to say to you that God loves you so much, He gave His only Son who dies for you.
But God loves. He never is angry. You know that’s only in comic books. He never is out to get you. He’s never going to make it miserable for you. God is a lover. And what He wants you to know is…
Especially as Christmas comes we celebrate a new-born child as the greatest thing that ever happened to this world. He’s so precious.
And how does he come?
With absolutely nothing.
And how does he go?
On a cross, with absolutely nothing.
And this is God’s life with us.
But the giving of nothing is the giving of everything, if the nothing that you give is your own heart.
And that’s the message that the little lady teaches us, who puts her two little pennies into the horn and says, “Take me Lord, for I give you myself.”