WHAT WILL YOU GIVE?

Author: Fr. Mike Byron
November 11, 2018

Like many of you, I’m sure, I do most of my charitable giving for the year during the last weeks of December, to be sure I get a tax advantage.  Let’s think about that for a moment:  When I give is in part conditioned by what I stand to benefit from.

That’s not the strategy that Jesus counsels today in Mark.  

I have about eight charities or non-profit organizations to which I give what is for me a fairly significant amount of money, and they range from those in which I feel a very heavy personal investment to those which I feel not much connected at all, but I believe in the mission.  I’ve been thinking about one of them in particular lately, specifically St. Pascal Baylon Catholic School on St. Paul’s east side.  It was my major charity for the past several years because I worked there every day.  I knew the kids personally, and some of their families, I knew that most of them couldn’t afford to pay full tuition, and half of them got free or reduced lunch.  And I knew that a major part of my ministry there was to do whatever I could to keep the place from closing, which meant that the fate of that school would be, to some extent, a reflection on me and how well I was doing my job.  My financial gifts were motivated, I think, by a sincere wish to make a difference.  But to be honest, I also had a big stake in the game.  

That was a year ago.  And now that stake isn’t any longer so big.  So what to do?  What do I give when there isn’t much of a reward in it for me anymore?

I will give exactly as much as I did last year, because, as I have been made to see again, giving isn’t about me—at all.  Not if it’s the kind of giving of which Jesus speaks.  The needs there are exactly the same as they have ever been, and growing, and they have come to depend on my giving—however modest it is.  And the question of what’s in it for me simply doesn’t matter.  

I don’t mean to hold myself up as a hero or a saint here.  I am well aware that among my other charitable gifts there are several that I make because it makes me feel good to do so…it makes me feel proud to be a partner in the effort.  Again, that’s not the kind of giving which Jesus praises in the gospel today.

What do you give when there’s nothing in it for you?  Not even a sense of satisfaction?  What do you give when the only reason to give is that you have something to offer and other people are in need?  No matter how large or small the gift?  And as Jesus makes clear in his instruction today, even though the poor widow’s offering was money, this isn’t a story that is primarily about money.  Just as the story in the first reading about Elijah and another poor widow wasn’t primarily about bread and oil.  

They are stories about the dispositions of our hearts, about an almost reckless willingness to trust in God rather than ourselves to keep us safe and to ensure that the poor are provided for.  The witness of both of these scriptural widows is a witness of absolutely radical self-offering for the sake of following God.  Poor people understand the need for that better than most of the rest of us, because they are required to.  

The teaching of Jesus here happens in the final days before his crucifixion.  He is knowingly walking into his immanent betrayal, torture and death.  There’s nothing of benefit in it for him, but only a felt duty to follow God for the sake of others, in the hope of something transformed on the other side of the grave.  And that is exactly how absolute must be our Christian commitment also.  To be honest, it’s a little scary that way.  If it doesn’t seem so, then let us re-read this.

A widow offers all that she has to live on, and Jesus approves, just as Elijah did centuries before.  This is the expectation.  This is the demand.  Risking everything.  I’m not there yet, and perhaps most of us aren’t either.  But that is the summons.  Are we ready to be as radically rooted in our faith as our baptismal promises require?  Forsaking absolutely every false security—including money—in order to be loyal to the call?  

I’d commend to your reading this weekend Fr. Bill’s column in the bulletin, remembering the 80th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s Kristallnacht in Germany, in which the first salvos of terror were launched against the Jews—terror that no one could have predicted would erupt on the scale of the Holocaust/Shoah just a couple of years later.  Are we ready to be as resolutely Catholic as they were to be resolutely Jewish?  

And now it’s 2018 and the haters are back and emboldened in public.  How much are we ready to give of ourselves in order to say a resolute “no” to this?  Are we willing to put our lives on the line, as the widows did?  As the Jews still are?

The purpose of every Eucharistic gathering is to remember who we are, by telling the old stories, ritualizing our most basic commitments, and encouraging one another to put whole lives in service to what is most fundamental to our existence.  The widows of the bible, poor though they were, offered everything.  Will we?


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