32nd Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:10–16; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:41–44
Three Givers Grudge givers say, “I hate to”; duty givers say, “I ought to”; thanks givers say, “I want to.”
One night years ago a cloudburst stranded a newlywed couple on a remote country road. Unable to go any farther, they got out of their car and set out on foot toward a dimly lit farmhouse.
When they reached the farmhouse, an elderly couple, carrying a kerosene lamp, met them at the door. Explaining their predicament, the young man asked:
“Could you put us up until morning? A place on the floor or a few easy chairs would be fine.”
Just then a few grains of rice slipped from the young lady’s hair and fell to the floor. The elderly couple glanced down at it and exchanged a knowing glance.
“Why surely, children,” said the elderly woman. “We just happen to have a spare bedroom. You get your things from the car while my husband and I freshen it up a bit.”
The next morning the newlyweds got up early and prepared to leave without disturbing the elderly couple. They dressed quietly, put a ten-dollar bill on the dresser, and tiptoed down the stairs.
When they opened the door to the living room, they found the old couple asleep in chairs. They’d given the newlyweds their only bedroom.
The young man had his wife wait a minute while he tiptoed back upstairs and put another five dollars on the dresser.
That story is a modern illustration of the beautiful story of the widow in today’s gospel.
Like the widow in the gospel, the elderly couple gave not from their surplus and what they could spare. Rather, they gave from their own meager resources.
Moreover, in both cases they gave not only generously but also joyfully and from the heart.
It has been said that there are three kinds of givers: grudge givers, duty givers, and thanks givers.
Grudge givers say, “I hate to give”; duty givers say, “I ought to give”; thanks givers say, “I want to give.”
In other words grudge givers give reluctantly and with a certain amount of resentment.
Duty givers give reluctantly too, but with a sense of true obligation.
Thanks givers, on the other hand, give freely and from the heart.
The story of the widow in today’s gospel and the story of the elderly couple in the farmhouse are both beautiful examples of thanksgiving.
Neither gave under constraint. Neither gave under obligation. Both gave from the heart.
The two stories invite us to ask ourselves how we give. Do we give grudgingly? Do we give dutifully? Or do we give because we want to?
And here we are not just talking about giving money. We are also talking about giving of ourselves and of our time.
For example, how do we give of ourselves and our time to God, in Sunday worship and daily prayer?
How do we give ourselves and our time to the members of our own family, in support and affection?
How do we give of ourselves and our time to our neighbor, in concern and service?
Do we give grudgingly, because we have to—because if we don’t give we will be criticized or penalized in some way?
Do we give dutifully out of a sense of obligation? That is, would we rather not give but feel obligated to do so?
Or do we give thankfully, because we want to? That is, do we give with a generous and full heart as did the widow in the gospel and the elderly couple in the story?
There’s one more point about the giving of ourselves that we might think about.
It’s that we can give of ourselves in different ways to different people. We might put it this way:
“The best gift to an enemy is forgiveness, to a friend is loyalty, to a child is good example, to a father is honor, to a mother is our heart, and to a neighbor is our hand.” (Inspired by Francis Balfour)
If our giving is less than it should be—if it is less than that of the widow in the gospel, or if it is less than that of the elderly couple in the story—then Jesus is speaking to us in a special way, directly and personally, in today’s gospel.
For he has reminded us elsewhere in the Gospel:
“Give to others, and god will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.” Luke 6:38
Let’s close with a brief meditation on how God gives so generously to us:
We ask for a flower; he gives us a bouquet. We ask for a drop of water; he gives us an ocean. We ask for a grain of sand; he gives us a beach. We ask for a blade of grass; he gives us a lawn. We ask for something to eat; he gives us his own body and blood.
Series II 32nd Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:10–16; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:41–44
Three Widows Grudge givers say “I hate to’’; duty givers say “I ought to’’; thanks givers say, “I want to.’’
Two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a remarkable woman was born in New York City. Her name was Elizabeth Bayley.
At the age of 20 she married a businessman named William Seton. Neither she nor William was Catholic. In time the couple had five children.
Then tragedy struck: William contracted tuberculosis.
William moved his family to Italy, hoping that the climate would help him. But his illness was terminal. He died a few years later.
With the help of a generous Italian family, the Setons moved back to the United States. The goodness of that Italian family led the young widow to investigate the Catholic Church. Two years later she became a Catholic.
Elizabeth’s relatives and friends were shocked. They virtually disowned her, and she was forced to get a teaching job to support her five children.
To make a long story short, when the children came of age, Elizabeth became a religious and founded the American branch of the Sisters of Charity. It was this order that pioneered the great Catholic school system in America.
Elizabeth once told a friend, “I’d like to retire from the turmoil of the world and lead a simple life of prayer, but God wants me to do something else, and I must always choose God’s will over my own.’’
Elizabeth Seton died at the age of 46.
In her lifetime she wasn’t a mystic. She wasn’t a stigmatic. She wasn’t a martyr. She was simply a widow who gave what she had to God.
She was simply a single parent who turned a tremendous tragedy in her life—the loss of her husband and the rejection of her family—into a spectacular gift to God and to the Church.
How fitting it was, then, that in 1975 Elizabeth Seton was canonized the first American-born saint.
The story of this generous widow fits in beautifully with today’s Scripture readings. For two of those readings are also about generous widows.
The first reading concerns a widow who shared with the prophet Elijah all the food she had to live on.
The gospel reading concerns a widow who gave to the Temple in Jerusalem all the money she had to live on.
Like Elizabeth Seton, each of these two widows gave with the same generous heart. Each had a perfectly legitimate reason to excuse herself from giving, but each refused to exercise that excuse.
Like Elizabeth Seton, each knew that the important thing was not what she had to give but the love with which she gave it. Each knew that what counted in God’s eyes is not the size of the gift but the size of the giver’s heart.
In spite of this, however, each gave not from her surplus—what she could afford to give, but from her substance—what she could not afford to give.
She gave with the same generosity that God gives to us. As a result, God blessed each widow with the same generosity that she had shown God.
Someone once said that there are three kinds of givers: grudge givers, duty givers, and thanks givers.
Grudge givers say, “I hate to give.’’ Duty givers say, “I ought to give.’’ Thanks givers say, “I want to give.’’
In other words, grudge givers give reluctantly and with a certain feeling of resentment.
Duty givers give reluctantly too, but with a certain feeling of obligation.
Thanks givers, on the other hand, give from the heart, without any feeling of resentment or obligation.
The three widows are beautiful examples of thanks givers.
They gave under no pressure. They gave under no obligation. They gave from the heart.
The stories of the three widows invite us to ask ourselves how we give.
Do we give grudgingly because we have to—because we will be embarrassed or thought less of if we don’t give?
Do we give dutifully because we feel obligated or required to do so?
Or do we give thankfully because our love and our faith tell us to give—just as the love and the faith of the widows told them to give?
If our giving is less than it should be, then Jesus is speaking to us, in a special way, through today’s Scripture readings.
For he is reminding us of something that he said elsewhere in the Gospel:
“Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.’’ Luke 6:38
Let’s close with a brief meditation on God’s own generosity in giving to us:
We ask for a flower, and God gives us a bouquet. We ask for a leaf, and God gives us a tree. We ask for a drop of water, and God gives us an ocean. We ask for a grain of sand, and God gives us a beach. We ask for a blade of wheat, and God gives us a wheat field. We ask for something to eat, and we are given God’s own body and blood.
Series III 32nd Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:10–16, Hebrews 9:24–28, Mark 12:38–44
Almsgiving An opportunity to love God and be like God.
Then a poor widow . . . dropped in two little copper coins . . . all she had to live on. Mark 12:43–44
Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States during World War I. When it ended on November 11, 1918, he set to work outlining a plan for a new world order.
The heart of the plan was a “League of Nations.” It had as its goal cooperation among nations and mutual protection against aggression.
Upon returning home after presenting the plan at the peace talks in Paris, Wilson set out on a train journey across the nation to get the backing of the American people for his plan.
At one of the train’s stops in Billings, Montana, two little boys managed to evade police lines.
They positioned themselves directly in front of President and Mrs. Wilson, who were standing on the outside platform of the observation car.
One of the boys was waving a small American flag. When the boy caught the president’s eye, he extended the flag upward to him. Wilson bent down and graciously accepted it.
When the other boy realized that he had no gift for the president, he reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a dime, and held it to the president. Once again, Wilson bent down to the boy, accepted the gift, and thanked him warmly.
Five years later, after President Wilson’s death, Mrs. Wilson was going through his belongings.
When she came to his billfold, she opened it. In a special pocket inside was something tiny, wrapped neatly in a piece of paper.
When she unwrapped it, she was moved to tears.
It was the dime the boy had given him in Billings, Montana. Wilson treasured it so much that he kept it on his person the rest of his life.
That wonderful story helps us understand how Jesus must have felt in today’s Gospel.
There he watched as the poor widow drop into the Temple offering box all she had to live on—two copper coins. It moved Jesus to say to his disciples, “This poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others.”
Of the thousands of things Jesus said and did, Saint Mark chose this story as one that should be preserved and retold over and over again until the end of the time.
Why did Saint Mark choose this story? We can think of three reasons.
First, it gives us an insight into the human warmth of Jesus— just as the story of the boy’s dime gives us an insight into the true human warmth of Wilson, who often appeared cold.
But there’s a second reason why Mark preserved the story of the poor widow. No one has expressed it better than Saint Teresa of Avila.
She said what God values most is not so much our gift
as it is the love that motivates it. This makes us all equal in God’s sight when it comes to giving.
It makes it possible for a school boy to give a gift more precious in the sight of a president than a priceless gift from a head of state.
And it makes it possible for a poor widow to give a gift more precious in God’s sight than the priceless gifts of kings.
That brings us to the third reason why Mark preserved the story of the widow and her offering. In a way, it is the most beautiful reason of the three. A true story by author Ensworth Reisner explains why:
There was a minister who, from a modern perspective, was as poor as the widow in today’s Gospel. He was barely able to make ends meet.
One day a family showed up at his door and asked him for help. After hearing their story, he ended up giving them every cent he had on hand.
As the family was leaving, the minister took the hands of the mother and father in his own hands and said, “Thank you for coming to me and giving me the opportunity to help you.”
“Those words,” said Reisner, “taught me a lesson I’ll never forget.”
When people give me the opportunity to help them, they give me the opportunity to be like God. And for that I owe them profound gratitude.
That is such a beautiful thought that it needs to be repeated.
When people give me the opportunity to help them, they give me the opportunity to be like God. And for that I owe them profound gratitude.
In other words, one of the ways we have been made in the image and likeness of God is our ability to share with others our time, talent, and treasure.
Everything we have is a gift from God. And how better to use our gifts from God than to share them with brothers and sisters who for various reasons have special needs.
And so by way of conclusion, Saint Mark preserves the story of the poor widow for three reasons.
First, it gives us a beautiful insight into the profound human warmth of Jesus. That same human warmth is echoed in the boy who gave his dime to the president—and in the president who graciously received and cherished it so profoundly.
Second, the widow’s gift reminds us that what God values most from us is not our gift, but the love that prompts it.
That made it possible for the widow to give a gift more precious in God’s sight than the large gifts of the rich and famous.
And it made it possible for a boy to give a gift to a president that was valued more highly than a gift from a head of state.
Third, the story of the widow’s gift reminds us that when people ask us to give or to help, they give us an opportunity to be like God. And, indeed, for that opportunity we owe them profound gratitude.
Let us close with these words of the British poet George Herbert:
O Thou, who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one thing more— a grateful heart.