YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: COURAGE IN GIVING
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
When as a child, I would ask my mother for some money to buy candies, and at times she would refuse, I would naturally insist: “Mom, it’s only five centavos I am asking from you, not one peso.” But she would invariably reply with a question: “But if I subtract five centavos from one peso, would it still be one peso? If I subtract five centavos from one hundred pesos, would it still be one hundred pesos?” Early in life, I learned to appreciate the value of little things. My father had the habit of collecting small scraps, which seemed useless and insignificant, such as screws, nuts, nails, bottle caps and many other bits and pieces. He knew these would come in handy in future time. And he was right.
I was invited once to say a Funeral Mass for a military pilot who died in a freak aircraft crash. The investigation report said that the aircraft had engine trouble. It was caused by a tiny spare part wrongly installed in the engine. Little things don’t necessarily mean of less value than the bigger ones. But oftentimes we are misled by the quantity, and we miss the value of the quality.
This is what the Lord was trying to point out when he called the attention of his disciples to the poor widow in the Temple. She gave two small coins to the treasury. What is the value of two small coins, worth only a cent, compared with the large donations from many rich people? It was very easy to neglect her measly contribution, but not with Jesus. As Scriptures say, “God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7). Looking at the hearts of people coming in to give donations, Jesus concluded: “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:43-44). The wealthy were just giving their surplus, but the widow was giving her whole life.
The former Archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, definitely inspired by the Gospel this Sunday, launched a very successful project dubbed as “Pondo ng Pinoy”. People were asked to gather twenty-five centavo coins (worth less than half a penny) everyday to help the poor. The fund campaign is so simple and affordable that even schoolchildren are able to contribute. On Sundays, they would go to church bringing with them their coins in plastic bottles and offer them during the Mass. After only a couple of years, the fund has gone up to hundreds of millions of pesos, and is now financing lots of livelihood projects and relief operations for the poor all over the country.
This is the proof of how small things, given with great love and concern for others, can change the world for the better. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines has come up with this famous statement more than a decade ago: “Nobody is so poor as to have nothing to give; nobody is so rich as to have nothing to receive.” The two widows – in the Gospel as well as the widow of Zarephath in the first reading – are true heroes in the sense of being martyrs. Martyrdom does not only refer to the shedding of blood and dying for Christ. Rather, based on its Greek origin, the word “martyr” means witness. The martyrs gave witness to Christ by courageously offering their lives for the sake of the faith. In a similar way, the widow of Zarephath gave to Elijah her last meal and was ready to die afterwards. The poor widow in the Gospel gave clear witness by contributing “all she had, her whole livelihood” to God. The two small coins were all she had to survive, but she still gave them all, tantamount to giving her whole life.
Why was she so generous? It was because of her love for God. As we always say, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” Jesus showed this when he gave his life on the cross: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The widow had genuine love, and that made her trust God completely, without any fear. This is what St. John said: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (1Jn 4:18). She knew God would always provide for her needs. She is one of those “poor in spirit” mentioned in the Beatitudes. In her poverty, she turned to God, and offered everything in total surrender and trust in divine providence.
The Gospel today is, therefore, a strong challenge for all of us. Why do many of us find it difficult to share to the poor and to contribute to the Church? Perhaps many of us have to be reminded that everything comes from God, and that we are just managers of everything that we have. Or perhaps we are not yet really convinced that God provides and that He can never be outdone in generosity. Are we afraid that God will not do His part of the deal? Then it simply means we do not trust God enough. And definitely, we don’t love Him enough, for as St. John said, “one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”
The famous French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: "When a man dies, he carries in his hands only that which he has given away." Remember this epitaph on the 17th century gravestone of Christopher Chapman in Westminster Abbey: "What I kept I lost. What I spent I had. What I gave I have."
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
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