32nd Sunday Year B
Am I generous? Do I give out of my abundance; do I give out of my essentials; or do I give away myself?
My dear friends, let us ask ourselves: am I generous? When we attend church on a weekend, many of us would give some money to the church. Occasionally, there may be a charity asking us for donation, and we would give away some money. So for many of us, we would consider ourselves generous. But are we really? This week’s Scripture Readings challenge us with this question: Am I giving out of my abundance; am I giving out of my essentials; or am I giving away myself?
First, let us be clear of one thing. Giving out of our abundance is not a bad thing. In today’s world, there is such disparity between the haves and the have nots that what we give out of our abundance could be something a poor person needs to say alive. Thus, we can do a lot of good without even making a great sacrifice ourselves. As St Paul said to the Corinthians, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’” (2 Cor 8:13-15)
Of course, if we are honest about it, there are some of us who are misers. I may find it hard to give away my money, even if it is out of my abundance. And when I do give, I find it hard to give away anything more than the loose change in my pocket. In the parable of Lazarus and the Dives (which means “rich man”) (Lk 16:19-31), Lazarus was a poor stricken man languishing outside the door of Dives. While Dives was enjoying his life of luxury behind closed door, he was impervious to Lazarus’ languishing just outside. When they both died, Lazarus went to heaven but Dives went to hell. Why did Dives end up in hell? What wrong has he done? The parable did not suggest that the Dives’ wealth was acquired unlawfully, neither was there any suggestion that he was responsible for Lazarus’ misfortunate. All he did was being insensitive to Lazarus’ sufferings. Well, Dives must have seen Lazarus many times as he walked in and out of his house. He could have relieved Lazarus’ suffering by sharing some of his abundance, but he did not. My brothers and sisters, our wealth is a blessing from God. God bless us with wealth so than we may use it to serve our community, the society and the broader humanity. The truth is, in a society of the haves and have nots, both the rich man and the poor man need each other. The poor man needs the rich man to restore his dignity; the rich man needs the poor man to open his heart to goodness. But Dives in the parable could not do that. He has committed the sins of greed and gluttony. And here is the honest truth: there is a Dives in most of us.
So this is our Scripture challenge this week. If I find myself behaving like Dives, then I ought to learn to open my heart. I can start by giving out of my abundance. It is an easy way to start – for giving out of my abundance does not impose any real hardship on me or my loved ones. On the other hand, if I am already giving out of my abundance, let us learn to develop a sense of detachment to our wealth so that we may give out of our essentials. This was the same calling Jesus gave to the rich young man, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mt 19:21) The man went away sad, as “he had many possessions” (Mt 19:22). The young man was not able to answer God’s call. On the other hand, the two widows in this week’s First Reading and the Gospel gave out of their essentials.
In Biblical times, widows are the deprived underclass of the society. The husband is the breadwinner and protector of the family. With no husband, the widow and her children have no financial or no physical security. In the First Reading, on being asked by Elijah, the widow of Zarephath used up her last remaining flour and oil to make the Elijah some bread. She gave out of her essentials without knowing where her next meal would come from. As a reward for her great generosity, “the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail” (verse 16). We don’t know how this came to be – whether the flour and oil were miraculously multiplied or someone show the widow kindness by replenishing them. But that is not important. The important lesson we draw from this story is that the widow gave out her essentials. As St Paul promised, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
In the Gospel, we read of another poor widow who gave her last two copper coins to the temple. The two copper coins were everything she had (verse 44). She could have kept one coin for her own use but she gave both away – she gave out of her essentials. The Gospel did not tell us what happened to the widow. But we can be assured that her generosity did not go unanswered. As promised by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:22-23,29-31) Indeed, my brothers and sisters, let us learn to be detached from our earthly wealth. Strive for God’s kingdom, and have trust and faith in God
While giving out of our essentials is noble, our Scripture challenge this week does not end here. As hard to believe as it is, giving out of our essentials is not the highest form of giving. The highest form of giving is giving away ourselves, in some cases, it involves even giving our lives. This is the highest form of giving. It is a sign of great love to be able to give ourselves away. But this is precisely the kind of generosity our Lord Jesus has shown us: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) For the love of humanity, Jesus, though He is God, allowed Himself to be born as a lowly human. And we know His sacrifices did not end there. For at the appointed time, though He is Himself sinless, He took on all the sins of humanity and allowed Himself to be punished for all our inequities. As the Second Reading explains, “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (verse 26). This form of giving is powerful and transforming – for both the giver and the recipients. In truth, watches giving away Himself can soften the most hardened of hearts. This is why the crucifix is a very powerful symbol of Christian love. For those of us with hardened hearts, who find it difficult to live a righteous life, if we let it, the crucifix will inspire us to give generously, to love reservingly, to forgive unconditionally. As St Paul bluntly put it, “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb 12:3-4)
My brothers and sisters, may we always give generously – out of our abundance, out of our essentials, and even giving away ourselves. Let us end this week’s reflection by contemplating on the Generosity Prayer, given to us by St Ignatius of Loyola:
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To labour and not to seek to rest,
To give of my self and not ask for a reward,
Except the reward of knowing that I am doing your will.