One day Mother Teresa was walking down a street when a beggar came up to her and said, “Mother Teresa, everybody is giving to you, I also want to give to you. Today, for the whole day, I got only thirty cents, I also want to give it to you.’
Mother Teresa thought for a moment: ‘If I take the thirty cents he will have nothing to eat tonight, and if I don’t take it I will hurt his feelings. So I put out my hands and I took the money. I have never seen such joy on anybody’s face as I saw on the face of that beggar man at the thought that he too could give to Mother Teresa.’
Mother Teresa went on: ‘It was a big sacrifice for that poor man, who had sat in the sun all day long and received only thirty cents. It was beautiful. Thirty cents is such a small amount, and I can get nothing with it, but as he gave it up and I took it, it became like thousands because it was given with so much love. God looks, not at the greatness of the work, but at the love with which it is performed.’
The readings today tell similar stories of remarkable generosity. The widow of Zarephath shares the last of her food with the starving prophet in a time of famine. She gives without hesitation, and is blessed in return. In the Gospel we can only be amazed at a poor widow performing an act of such spontaneous goodness. All such actions do not make sense in our consumer culture where the big bucks count. But of course for Blessed Teresa as for Jesus the big bucks do not count for much. It is the love with which our actions are performed and not the greatness of the work that matters.
I’m sure the disciples, coming from poor Galilee were impressed, even overawed, with the temple scribes and their long robes, and the rich pouring in their money. They would not have witnessed anything like this back home. The treasury was a row of trumpet shaped metal containers. There would be a big noise as the rich conspicuously flung in large sums and everyone could hear it. The poor widow’s two coins could not possibly make such a noise. They do not attract much attention, except perhaps pity that she has so little.
If the disciples were impressed with this lavish scene, Jesus wasn’t. He puts the people on their guard concerning them. Their religion is false: they use it to seek their own glory and to exploit the weak. There’s no need to admire them or follow their example. And then sitting down, (the pose of a teacher giving a lesson) Jesus observes the deed of a poor widow, and calls his disciples’ attention to it. From this woman they can learn something that the scribes would never teach them: a complete faith in God and a generosity without limits.
This widow doesn’t go about seeking honour or any such prestige; she’s acting in a silent and humble way. She’s not thinking about exploiting anyone; on the contrary she gives everything she has because others might need it. According to Jesus she has given more than all the rest, since she doesn’t give from what she could spare, but “all she had to live on”.
It is a strange but common truth, that generosity is often more widespread among those who have little to spare than among those who have lots of money and property. It’s a theme running through the Bible. The poor, God’s anawim, have learned to put their trust in God, perhaps because they have no one else to turn to. It is the poor who have great and generous hearts, who know how to love without holding back.
I find a link between this scene and Pope Francis’ encyclical on global warming called Laudato Si! Francis doesn’t mince his words when he blames greed for the many sad things happening to our world today. Unchecked human greed can destroy this beautiful planet of ours. It means we are now faced with a choice more critical than at any other time in human history. The choice is between greed and selfishness like that of the scribes on the one hand, or the generosity of the widow on the other. The real problem with selfishness and greed is the fact that the world cannot afford it anymore. Our earth has limited resources. Greed has no regard for the beauty of this planet and if we continue to feed our greed, then our planet will surely die. What a sad future that will be for our children and our children’s children!
The words of Mahatma Gandhi come to mind: ‘Live simply, so that others may simply live’. Thankfully we have a Pope who is a glowing example of this kind of simplicity. Love means putting others first and the love that is being asked of us today is global as well as personal. We are called to live for others, yes, for our family and friends. But we must also keep in mind the people we don’t see and never will – those in far away places and our children’s children for the many future generations to come. And we must care for this beautiful earth that alone can sustain all God’s people. It calls for self-sacrifice, for giving until it hurts. But then that’s the most authentic part of us. Made in the image of God who is loving and giving, we too find our true joy in loving and giving, like the joy of that beggar who was so happy to be able to give to Mother Teresa. Learning to give means that Elijah’s prophecy will be fulfilled, namely that the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail, not only for this generation but for the many generations to come.
The bottom line is trust in God and that’s the chief message of these remarkable widows. Their great trust, like that of Jesus, enabled them to give and thus make this world more human. It is only such an attitude that will keep Jesus’ Spirit alive in the midst of other false and self-interested attitudes. It is from such women that we need to learn how to follow Jesus. They are the ones who are most like him.
Sunday, November 8, 2015