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Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time B: November 7, 2021

Mark 12:39-44 or 12:41-44

By Rev. John Tran

The first part of this gospel, verses 39-40, deal with the Pharisees. Jesus points out that sometimes the experts in religion are not good examples of what the faith stands for. The main point is that the experts of the law look for a very superficial expression of religion; everything is for show, nothing is very deep. They want to be seen as ‘religious’ without having to really live the faith on a deep level, a level which would cost them something personally. They want all the glory without having to serve or suffer. Though this does have something to say today to priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, parish council members, RCIA leaders, CCD teachers, or any parish leaders, it also applies to any Christian in living out their faith in the sense of how deeply we live our faith or how much we allow it to inconvenience us. However, today, let's concentrate on the second part of the reading.

The second section of the gospel is made up of verses 41-44. To me this is the meat of this message. In a way the first part prepares the way for this part because one of the abuses of the experts of the law was to cheat widows. This second section shows us what is important: to live out our faith and give to others in a way that costs us something: “they [the rich people] have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she [the poor widow], from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” The widow definitely gave the greatest gift. What she did goes against what the experts of the law were doing in the first part of the gospel. The widow was not living for show, but from deep conviction and generosity. You will notice that other people watching was going on in the temple would not have even noticed her; they would only see the rich people who gave a lot of money for show. The coins that the woman gave were worth was a fraction of a penny.

What are the characteristics of real giving?

First, real giving must be sacrificial. The amount of the gift in itself does not matter, what matters is how much it costs to the giver. Real generosity gives until it hurts or said in other way, gives until the giver feels some loss, that is, that it cost something. For example, if I give to this poor person something for food, it means that I will not have beef to eat for a month, or even better, no beef in my diet at all. It is too bad that today we often want something back when we give, like our name on a list in a magazine, or for giving we get some prize. Most of the time, we do not give anywhere near to the extent of the poor widow. Second, real giving has a certain recklessness about it. The woman might have kept one of the small coins and at least have had something to eat. It would not have been much but it would have been something, more even than the rich person’s gift. but she gave everything she had. We often hold back when we give and keep something for ourselves. Of course our gift does not have to be money; it could be our time to a lonely elderly person shut in at home or in a nursing home, often very sad places; or it could be giving time to teach someone to read, or help at the food bank, or delivery food to shut-ins.

Third, the way of giving does not necessarily cost much monetarily or even be noticed by others. It is strange and lovely that the person whom the New Testament and Jesus himself hand down to history as a pattern of generosity was a person who gave a gift of half a cent. We may feel that we do not have much in the way of material gifts or personal gifts, like time or sharing knowledge or skills, to give to Christ and his people, but, if we put all that we have and are at Jesus’ disposal, he can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings. Notice this example from the life of Leo Tolstoy; it's not a monumental event, but one which touched a person deeply.

Walking along a street in Russia during a famine, the great writer Leo Tolstoy met a beggar. Tolstoy searched in his pockets to look for something he could give. But there was none. He had earlier given away all his money. In his pity, he reached out, took the beggar in his arms, embraced him, kissed him on his hollow checks and said: “Don’t be angry with me my brother, I have nothing to give.”– The beggar’s face lit up. Tears flowed from his eyes, as he said: “But you embraced me and kissed me. You called me brother – you have given me yourself – that is a great gift.”

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