Abundance comes when what we give is given with a free will

Jesus had nothing against money and property — but He abhorred the inner attitude of overattachment to them.

Nov 05, 2021

          Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Rev Deacon Dr Leslie Petrus

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16;
Hebrews 9:24-28; Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

Every time the story about the widow’s offering in the gospel is read, I recall an incident which occurred during my studies at Madras Medical College, Chennai, India. The incident impacted me so deeply that I can remember it vividly, even after 37 years.

I used to get my food from a widow who had three children, the eldest, a son aged 13. She would dutifully send food five times a week; this went on for six months. But there was one time when no food was delivered for a week. I went to the convent where she was working as a sweeper. They directed me to the squatter area, where houses were built with just mud floors and plastic sheets as roofs. I found her, lying down with a cough and a fever, and above her was a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The moment she saw me, she got up immediately to find me a stool from the neighbour’s house and then went to the nearby tea stall to buy me soda water.

She had no money and I saw her begging the stall owner to loan her the soda water, pleading that she would pay later. When I saw this from a distance, I froze and my heart ached at what I saw, and tears swelled in my eyes. When she came back, I chided her for getting that soda. She refused money from me. She said, “You came to see me. Don’t take that joy from me. God will take care of it.” She gave everything she had just to get me a soda drink. As I went back, the story of the widow’s offering at the temple came to my mind.

In the first reading taken from 1 Kings 17:1-16, the Prophet Elijah lived in a critical time, for the northern kingdom was ruled by King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel, who introduced the worship of idols. Elijah attacked this paganism by predicting a threeyear drought and this affected the helpless widow with scarcity of food. She had little, but she was open to God’s word and willing to give even the little she had, foregoing the last meal for her child and herself.

In the second reading taken from Hebrews 9:24-28, Christ died for us, giving His entire self to die on the cross so that you and I could be saved. He thought of you and me in that atonement. Christ was other-centred. He gave everything of Himself so that we could find meaning and purpose in our lives.

In the Gospel taken from Mark 12:38- 44, in that busiest place in Jerusalem, Jesus could zoom onto one inconspicuous, poor widow with admiration. She must have moved His heart to the core. All three widows mentioned here teach us one of the fundamental truths in spiritual life — that abundance comes when what we give is given with of our own free will. If we want to increase our faith, we need to share it with someone else. If we want more joy and peace, we need to become a bearer of it.

We believe in God and the teachings of Jesus but why is it that sometimes we hold back instead of sharing what we have? Jesus had nothing against money and property — but He abhorred the inner attitude of overattachment to them. God has blessed us with health, talents, and time. The question to ask ourselves daily is — how are we using all these for Him and His people? The blessings we have are meant to be shared with others who have less or with those who have nothing.

One important question we need to ask is this: what did the two widows mentioned in today’s scriptures, and the widow I met in India, have that we do not have? As for myself, despite all my years as a believer in Christ, having studied, written, and prayed much, something was lacking, deep down in my core. What is it that the poor widows had in them that we do not seem to have? What is it that the widows could see in life that we do not seem to see?

I believe they had a unique and radical attitude and perspective in life — and that we do not seem to have. The widows had nothing extra, nothing kept hidden in bank accounts. They had nothing even for the day, and yet they were willing to give up their own needs for others. That attitude and perspective are that of Christ, a radical othercentred spirituality, that the needs of others must affect us and challenge us to reach out to them. They knew what depending on God’s providence really meant.

That widow who many years ago got up from her sick bed and went to beg for soda water so that she could offer me a drink is now the proud mother of a Catholic missionary priest serving in Sibu, Sarawak. She now lives in a comfortable home with a son and daughter, whom she managed to provide with a good education. God too never forgot that soda water and has blessed her in her old age.

--Rev Deacon Dr Leslie Petrus is from the Diocese of Malacca-Johore. He heads the Diocesan Commission for Family, Laity & Life and serves at the Church of St Joseph in Plentong, Johor. He is also a practising dentist.

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