An elderly man bought a lottery ticket and gave it to his wife for safe-keeping. When the winning numbers were announced, she was the first to know that he had won two million dollars. But she decided not to tell him immediately since he had a bad heart and she feared he might drop dead from the shock. Consequently, she asked their pastor to break the news to him, gently. When the pastor met with the big winner, he engaged him in small talk for a while. Finally, as casually as possible, he asked, “What would you do if you were ever to win a couple of million dollars?” Without hesitation the man replied, “I’d give half to the Church!” Whereupon, the pastor dropped dead.
Why start with that story? Because today’s Gospel ( Mark 12:38-44 )is talking about giving, it’s about generosity AND it’s about the spirit behind our giving and the spirit behind how we relate to one another.
It’s interesting that, in the teachings of Jesus, the subject of money and possessions is the number two topic in terms of frequency. And, in order to understand why this is so, we need to turn to Jesus’ number one topic: The Kingdom of God. We need to see all the money passages in relationship to what Jesus said about God: the Good News of a God who loves us so much — loves you so much — that He is calling us into the kind of relationship with Him that enables us to grow into the complete, whole, fulfilled human persons He made us to be.
Many of us say to ourselves, “Life would be so much easier if only I could have lots of money.” Like Tevye in The Fiddler On The Roof, we could just “deedle deedle dum, and biddi biddi bum.” And we think longingly about how life would be if only we were rich. And then Jesus comes into our lives and tells us that this could easily turn into the very worst thing that could happen to us. Not just once, but over-and-over again in the Gospels, He tells us that preoccupation with money can destroy our ability to enter and rejoice in the New Life He is offering us.
To want to be with God, to want to share in His life of Love, is the one thing needful in life. And what Jesus is telling us in so many ways, is that devotion to money is the greatest threat to a right relationship with God. The more we put our trust in money and possessions to deliver the good life, the more estranged from God we become.
Because when the dark days come, when it seems too tough, or too scary, or too unbelievable – we don’t need to have it all figured out. Sure, we can take steps to try to better our situation – but each step should be accompanied by one thing – trusting in and walking with God.
Trust that God will provide. Just as the widow did in the first reading today. She trusted in God, speaking through Elijah, that He would provide food. Even when Elijah asked for something to eat, for her to feed him first and give him her last bit of food – she trusted that God would provide. And He did.
Jesus did this as well. At times throughout His Passion, Jesus was scared. As he agonized in the garden, He asked to be relieved of this task. On the Cross, He asked His Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” There were times where He was unsure how He was going to do this task, and save the world from sin – but then through all the agony, pain, and aloneness – He trusted in His Father to provide. And God delivered.
And then there’s the poor widow from the Gospel today. She gave the treasury all that she had. It surely hurt her to give what she did. She didn’t give from surplus. What she gave required major sacrifice in other areas of her life. Maybe she no longer had money for food and could not eat. She definitely could not go out and buy new clothes. But she gave anyway. She gave more than she could afford, because she knew deep down that is what she should do. She knew that it was the sacrifice – the hurt – and the love from the heart that would save her. It’s the hurt and accepting the hurt for the betterment of someone else that makes us stronger.
God experienced this. He sacrificed His only Son – and experienced the hurt of watching Him go through what He did – but knew it was for the betterment of humanity. He knew it was to save us, and He knew that the hurt would make His people stronger and through His son, build a strong Catholic, Christian Church. God sacrificed – a sacrifice that hurt – for all of us.
But total trust in God is hard for us. We are taught to be self-dependent. We are taught that the more self-sufficient we are, the better a person we are. Some people wear their self-sufficiency like a badge of honor. The key though is that, as we grow in self sufficiency, are we acknowledging where that comes from? As our chest fills with pride at how little we need from others — how we can take care of ourselves – where is the room for Christ? When do we stop and say: I am who I am because of Christ and it is to Christ that I owe everything. Every prayer that I utter –regardless of the circumstance that I am in – should be a prayer of thanks. Every request I make of God – every prayer of supplication – should be based on our belief that God will provide. He will provide. Sometimes it is not in a shape or form we recognize but God will provide. All we need to do is make room for him in our hearts, acknowledge that he is the source of all whom we are, and trust — TRUST — that He will take care of us. He will, he has, and he will over and over again in your life.
There is a wonderful thing that happens to us when our hearts are stirred by the experience of God’s living, loving, caring Presence in our lives. God is with us! We respond to God’s giving of Himself in this way by the giving of ourselves to God and to each other, generously and willingly.
This is what true faith is. This is what Christ came to teach us. We must open our hearts to God. It is more than prayer. It is more than coming to church on Sunday. It is more than receiving the sacraments. It is a conscious — and never ending, living mantra – that says Christ is within me. I am a reflection of Christ. All that I do should have a Christian heart. All that I say should come from knowing Christ. Do you see what I am talking about? Can you hate if Christ is within you? Can you gossip if Jesus is stirring your soul? Can you sin and scandalize if your life is wrapped around Christ. How do you love – love another fully and with compassion – unless you know the hallmarks of Christ’s love? How can you even say we are living a Christian life unless, in fact, our lives are full of Christ.
So what can we take from today’s lesson – from today’s teachings? First and foremost, we must live our life depending on the goodness and love that God has for each of us. It is not about worldly things. Secondly, that we must trust that God will always be there for us – regardless of the darkness of the moment or the day. Third, we need to open our hearts and allow Christ to be the center of all that we say, all that we do, all that we think, all that we are. When we do all of that, Christ reigns in us. When that happens, there is no obstacle that can stop us. There is no mountain that we cannot climb. And you will find the ultimate gift on earth – you will be free. You will be free because you have let go, let loose, and let the love of Christ dominate your life.