Today it’s all about widows. At the time of Jesus and before, widows along with orphans were the most vulnerable members of society. They were at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. There was no governmental welfare system or safety net for them. They relied on the support of extended family or if there was no family they begged. In our first reading the widow was down to her last meal. She was as low as you can go. There was no support, no future, and no hope. Or so it seemed. Then the divine entered into her life, at her greatest point of vulnerability the divine entered into her life, and she was ready. Elijah meets this widow when she is down to her last bit of food, and he knows this, but he still asks her to give (share) it to him. At the bottom of her life she is asked to give and to give. And she does. The great spiritual principle is this: When we are linked to God who in his essence is gift then we can give and give and never run out. He replenishes us. This is the divine logic, the economics of Heaven. Abundance comes from the willing gift. Abundance comes to us when we are willing to give. The widow gave out of her want and for a whole year the flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.
In the year 258 A.D. the Roman Emperor Valerian issued an edict ordering the death of all Bishops, priests, and deacons. The pope at that time was Sixtus II and he along with six of his deacons was the first to be killed. At that time in the whole city of Rome there were only seven deacons, so only one remained alive. His name was Lawrence and since he was the only remaining Pope’s deacon he became the highest ranking church official until another Pope could be elected. And as the highest Church official the emperor called him to his palace and ordered him to hand over all the treasures of the Church. Lawrence agreed saying, “The Church is indeed filled with many riches,” “But I need time to gather all the treasures.” He asked for three days to gather everything together. The emperor agreed. But instead of gathering the deeds to property or gold coins, during the next three days Lawrence gathered as many Christians together as he could. He gathered the poor, the infirm, the widowed, the orphaned, the suffering, and the sick and this was the treasure he presented to the emperor. And with this group of people standing in front of the emperor Lawrence said, “See the wondrous riches of our God.” As you can imagine, thinking as the world does, the emperor was furious and in a rage he ordered the immediate death of Lawrence. Lawrence was killed on a gridiron set over a slow fire. He was roasted to death. Lawrence is honored as one of the great martyrs of the early Church.
Lawrence was very correct in presenting the People of God as the Church’s greatest treasure. You and I my friends are that treasure, that body of Christ, and as Christians we share, we give of ourselves. We follow that divine logic and economics of Heaven. When linked to the God who is gift then we can give and give and never run out. There is that saying with the three Ts. As Christians we give of our time, our talent, and our treasure. And we give not from our surplus but from our want. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta once said, “That we should give until it hurts.” A hard saying, but one lived out in our Gospel of today.
To the eyes of the world, to the eyes of the emperor, it would seem that the Pharisees are the treasure of the church, and in their own eyes they probably are. They recite lengthy prayers and they give vast sums of money to the Temple. But Jesus sees things differently, sitting down opposite the treasury he observes everything, he observes with divine logic. The widow only gave two small coins. She gave not out of her surplus, as the rich scribes had done, but out of her substance. She gives the last thing she has and she does this all for the glory of God. Her gift meant that she would have to rely on God even more to provide her next meal. When we are linked to God, who in essence is gift, then we can give and give and never run out.
Bishop Barron repeatedly says, “When we want our faith to increase, then we need to share our faith with another, when we want our joy to increase, then we need to become a bearer of joy, making others joyful, when we want our quality of life to increase, then we need to give our life away serving others.” This is the divine logic, our being increases in the measure we give it away. And God always replenishes us.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley