32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Purity of Giving"
The readings today mentioned two widows. The widow in Biblical times was a marginalized, desperate and needy person. They were vulnerable and poor because wives stayed home and the husband was the breadwinner. If the husband dies, there was nothing for the wife as a source of income. There was at that time the dowry given to the woman before getting married so that she had something to fall back on in case the husband dies. There was also the Levirate Marriage Law where the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow and raise children in the name of the deceased brother. In the Book of Ruth, the brother who would marry the brother’s widow is called the kinsman’s redeemer to give protection to the widow.
In the New Testament, James said that true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans in their distress and in their need. In Acts 6, the Church ordained deacons because of the need to take care of widows. God loves the needy so He uses all of us, Christians and children of God, to take care of the needy, and this is why we exist.
In the Old Testament reading, it would look that Elijah was cruel because he asked the widow and her son of their last meal. It would seem like it was cruel for Elijah to ask for somebody who is in desperate need of resources. But was he being cruel to her or was he saving her? It was God who sent Elijah to this poor widow and I am sure God knew the circumstances of the widow, but Elijah was saving her, not making her suffer.
God is eternal. God has inexhaustible, never ending, bottomless provisions, and He is love. If we have God in us, if we have love in us, if we have Him who is eternally providing and ever blessing, if we give of that love from our heart, we will never run out of love to give. However, if we put materialism or temporal things in our hearts, it will definitely run out. I have shared that 9 out of 10 first prize lotto winners, within one year, have gone bankrupt because these things has an end in it. If God is in us, we can draw from Him and never run out.
Are we down to our last meal or does it seems that we are down to our last meal? Look for an Elijah to bless! Look for an opportunity to stretch that last meal because God is able to stretch it. The widow and her son ending up eating for one year until the drought was over and their lives were lengthened because they obeyed God first and they gave sacrificially. In the gospel, the widow gave out of her poverty, and this was big for her. Jesus said, “There were those who gave large sums of money,” but in His eyes, it was the widow who gave the most. It was all that she had. She depleted her survival fund and she put her faith in God, not on something that she would fall back on.
In the kingdom of God, it is not how much we give, but it is how much it costs us to give. Jesus said that the widow did more for the kingdom than those big donors. In the eyes of God, we are a big giver if we give from our poverty, not from our surplus. In the Kingdom, it is not about the amount, but the act of sacrificial love that matters to God. It is all about the heart – did we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our might?
For an average American, their standard of living is four times the global average, and yet, they give to the Church and to charity only 2.8% of their income, and they live on the 97.2%. They are generous in giving of their 2.8% because commercialism conditions their minds that it is not a need, but a want. St. Paul said that if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content, and this is how the Americans think. I know of an American who is a member of our CEC church whose business grew because what he purposed to do and set for himself was to give himself a salary from his own income just to meet the needs of the family, without depriving themselves. The rest of his income, he gives to the Church. God honored what he did and multiplied his business and the Church where he belongs.
Jesus and the widow gave sacrificially. Jesus withheld nothing. He gave His all for the life of the world – for those who are in need. Do we give out of surplus or do we give out of our poverty? Our wants should not be our driving force. What do we need and what can we give?
In the Old Testament, tithing was taught, and they had a taxation system that involved the tithe. What they gave was way more than ten percent – 27 to 40%. It should be a legalistic thing. Abraham, even before the Law, gave his tithe. See tithe as a benchmark, as a pattern, not as a law that we are compelled to obey and to be limited by it. If we give our tithe, we still have 90% and we are not giving out of our poverty. Our standard in the New Testament is to give freely, to give cheerfully, and like Jesus pointing out to the widow, to give sacrificially. If one is a billionaire and gives ten percent to the Church, there is still a lot of surplus left. It is not how much or even percentage wise, but how much we give of ourselves. What does it cost us? Does it hurt us? Does it take a lot from us that we give?
Sacrificial love is what advances the Kingdom – not power, prestige or possessions. The kingdom of God is about manifesting the character of God which is most decisively displayed on the Cross – the giving of oneself without withholding anything. It is a one hundred percent. Jesus did not require the rich young ruler tithe from him but his all, just like Elijah who did not want the widow to starve to death. What Jesus and Elijah wanted was an unending supply, and to have this, we have to have God in our hearts, to have love and to give off of that.
God could have used Caesar, Caiaphas, the Roman army to spread the gospel. They could have gained glamor and glitz and could have used the movers and the shakers at that time. But, what would they come up with? It may be fame, fortune, or they could have built buildings for Churches, but would they have built the kingdom of God? Would they have spread the message of the Kingdom, which is sacrificial love? Instead, God used Mary, Joseph, Peter, James, John, David, Gideon, Jeremiah, Rahab, you and I. Not many of us are noble and wise or wealthy, but God uses the base things of the world because His agenda is not the world’s agenda, but to show what the kingdom of God is like – which is the humble, sacrificial love as displayed on the Cross. It is the Christ-like love.
To the world, what is valued is what produces or delivers. The world will teach us how to increase in number and how to have more offerings, more people, more buildings and programs. These are fine and wonderful and we can gain wisdom from all of these, but no matter what the size or the magnitude, God looks at how much it cost us. Our contribution in the kingdom of God is not about how big we gave, but how it was given from the heart. What builds the Kingdom is the widow’s mite. It is giving, loving, living, and sacrificing like Jesus. No matter the size, the question is: is it advancing the message, the essence, the character, and the culture of the kingdom of God?
It is not how much we accomplish but what it cost us to accomplish it. I am not against big givers or donors. Everyone’s gift or contribution or donation is welcome. It is God who sees our hearts. The principle is we all should give (small or big) sacrificially because this is the standard that Jesus set and what we saw in the widow.
St. Paul said in 1Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of angels, if I prophesy, (adding to it, “if I donate buildings and millions in charity and I am famous and celebrated”) but I don’t have love, these things are worthless.” Without love, they amount to nothing. However, two copper coins given sacrificially is a big deal in the eyes of God. Our ministry may be small or we have a small cell group or we do things behind the scenes, but if we give from our heart, in the eyes of God, we are a big celebrity in the kingdom of God. We are not competing, but only obeying and wanting to be like Jesus.
I am not discounting accomplishments or measurable results. These are good and very welcome, but the real question is how much of self do we give? Our part is that we plant, we water, and we do this with all our heart, and God causes the growth. In everything we do, we put our whole heart in it and we desire that glory of God in whatever we do. Again, it is not how much we give, but how much it costs us to give what we give. This matters to God and this is the very way it is in the kingdom of our God.