11 November 2006

Homily - 12 November 2006

Today Holy Mother Church presents for our consideration the story of two widows. Both women are quite poor and in dire circumstances. One we know has a young boy and neither has much money. Even so, the unexpected – and, in our estimation, the very foolish – was asked of these two women and in their responses we find for ourselves a very great challenge and the measuring rod of faith.

The first widow, and her son, clearly have eaten little or nothing for many days for she readily admits “we shall die” after they eat a small bite (I Kings 17:12). She has saved what little flour she had left as long as she could and when she can wait no longer the prophet Elijah requests her required hospitality. “Please bring me along a bit of bread,” he says to her, knowing full well, I expect, that she had none (I Kings 17:11). Nevertheless, the woman trusts in the generosity of the Lord who promised through his prophet: “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry” (I Kings 17:14). Through the Lord’s goodness, her flour and oil remain for an entire year, enough to feed her, the young boy, and the man of God; a remarkable feat by any standard. The widow gave everything she had to the Lord, through his prophet, and held nothing back and the Lord met all of her needs.

The second widow surely knew the story of the. When she entered the temple to offer alms for the poor and needy she gave no thought to herself but only to those worse off than she. Whereas the wealthy gave but a small portion of what was left -after they acquired everything they wanted - this beautiful widow “from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:44). Unlike the wealthy, the widow gave everything she had to the Lord and held nothing back and the Lord met all of her needs.

These two widows both knew that “the LORD keeps faith forever” (Psalm 146:7). Both could easily have withheld their offering and we would say they would be justified in doing so. We would commend them for being wise stewards of what little they had, but this Jesus does not do. He commends them and praises them not for their foolishness but rather for their great generosity and concern for others more than themselves.

In their poverty these two women depended upon the Lord for their sustenance and livelihood. They did not trust in their own ingenuity or cleverness, nor did they trust in what little wealth they had. In the midst of their difficulties they trusted not in themselves or in their own work, but in the Lord alone. Can the same be said of us?

There are many today who still try, as it were, to buy their way into heaven. They lack the love of the widows. You who are rich: do not trust in your wealth. The Lord will not be fooled.

If money could purchase such things, then the woman who deposited the two small copper coins would have received nothing very large. But since it was not money but rather her intention that prevailed, that woman received everything because she demonstrated firm conviction (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians).
The Lord Jesus did not praise the woman for her gift of money, but for her desire to give all that she had. In this way, she imitated Christ who gave himself completely to us, sparing not even his own life. In this way she is a model for us.

There are also many today who make no offering at all to the Lord, thinking their small gift will be of little or no account. Others think that the Lord will not provide all of their genuine needs if they foolishly give away their hard-earned money. They lack the faith of the widows. You who are poor: follow the example of these widows and remember the multiplication of the loaves and fish. The Lord can take a small gift freely given an make of it something truly great.

There are yet others today who consider their entrance into heaven assured simply because of themselves. They rightly make no great pretense about following Christ, but, wrongly, they make no great effort to follow Christ, either. They say to themselves,

I am a good person and have lived a good life. I haven’t killed anybody or committed adultery. I haven’t stolen a car or burned a house. I have nothing to worry about. I haven’t done anything really wrong. I don’t have any big sins.
All the while they say this they forget that they hate the person three pews away from them; they forget they are not open to God’s gift of life; they forget they live in sin with their boyfriend or girlfriend; they forget they do not meet the genuine needs of their employees or fulfill their duties at school or at work. All this they do and say, “I am a good person; what more does the Lord want?” The answer is simple: the Lord wants everything you have and everything you are.

What are you withholding from the Lord today, from him who gave everything for you? He desires your love. Will you give it to him? Your heart desires his love. Will you receive it today?

We might well ask: what enabled this widow to give away even her livelihood? I tell you, it was her love. She loved the Lord so very much and trusted so fully in him that she withheld not a thing from him but gave him everything. In this way she is a great challenge to us and a demonstration of what love truly is.

As the season of Advent draws ever closer, the season of giving also comes near. Solicitations in the stores and in the mail will increase in the coming weeks, as will our response to them. We have a tendency to throw in only a few coins here and a few coins there, all to avoid looking stingy by not dropping something in every kettle we see. Where is the love in this act? This is no act of love but of pride and arrogance. Let us then follow the example of this widow and offer to the Lord whatever he asks of us. Let us remember the words of Saint Paul: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3).


  1. Anonymous5:45 PM

    The "widows mite" teaches us a lot. So many love capitalism but what does it do to our faith? We spend so much time chasing distractions and past times that makes Freud and Marx look like they are correct in describing our love for God as an "opiate" or a numbing exercise similar to alcohol or drugs. I don't want to sound like I am anti-american. I served in Desert Storm and am proud of what we say we stand for in this country (ok for some of the things we stand for), but a country so rich has a lot to learn from the widow. I think of the 51 million a baseball team paid to just NEGOTIATE with a player. That 51 million would do a lot for the poor in this country. How far we have deviated from Abraham and Noah.

  2. You are quite correct, Doctor.

    Capitalism often teaches us a love of money and of "things", rather than a love of God and of neighbor over that of love of myself.