It was on a Sunday morning in a certain town in Nigeria West Africa. While preparing to attend the Sunday Mass, one young man brought out his wallet and examined what was left after having an exciting weekend groove with some of his friends who came into town. He had the following denominations: 5 naira note (little above a quarter), 50 naira note (less 50 cents), 100 Naira note (less than a dollar) 200 naira note ( about 1.3 dollars), 500 naira note ( about 3.2 dollars) and 1000 Naira note ( about 6.4 dollars). After an interval of calculation on how to use his money that day, he brought out the 5 naira note and 1000 naira note. He planned to give the 5 naira as his offering for the Mass and thereafter use the 1000 naira to buy airtime for his mobile phone’s pay as you go recharge. Before proceeding to the church he had the 5 naira in his left pocket and the 1000 naira in his right pocket.
During the offering time, the choir was in an exceptionally celebrative mood as they rendered traditional liturgical songs that prodded people to dance along as they went to put money in the offering box at the centre of aisle. The young man in question seemed to be in a happier mood as the choir rendered one of the songs he loved so much. In that gusto he approached the offering box and dipping his hand into his right pocket and without checking what he brought out he made his offering. While proceeding to his seat, he paused a while to check his right pocket and instantly he discovered that he had just offered the 1000 naira note and suddenly he stopped dancing and he became moody. He remained that way throughout the rest of the Mass; of course he was unable to receive communion on account of his state of mind. After the Mass he waited like other people to greet the priest and thank him for the wonderful celebration. As he shook hands with the priest he immediately submitted that he made a mistake during the offering time as he “mistakenly” gave 100 naira instead of 5 naira. The priest was shocked but went ahead to ask him what he would like to be done about it. He said that he would like to have the 1000 naira replaced with the 5 naira he had in mind from home. The priest did not argue and asked him to bring the 5 naira and then have the 1000 naira back. The man searched his left pocket for more than 10 minutes and he could not find the 5 naira. The priest told him that he could only give him 1000 naira if he provided the 5 naira.
The young man became more confused and left. While going home it came to his mind that he had earlier removed the 5 naira from his left pocket and was actually having it in his hand, but the song so thrilled him that he went ahead to dip his hand into his right pocket and offered both the 5 naira and the 1000 naira. God eventually took all “by default!”
Today, the first reading (1Kings 17:10-16) and the gospel reading (Mark 12:38-44) present us with issues that are so much related with giving to God or for God’s sake. In the first reading we encounter a widow at Zarephath at the heat of the famine being experienced by the people of Israel. As Elijah entered the city (by divine direction) he saw the widow in question gathering sticks by the city gate. Immediately he asked for water to drink. While she was going he called her back and asked for a morsel of bread.
The woman was speechless. She could afford water as it is demanded in the Jewish law not to refuse water to someone thirsty especially when it is available, but for bread her story was not palatable. According to her, she had a handful of flour and a little oil which she was about to prepare for herself and her child to eat and afterwards await death. Elijah interrupted her lines of lament by assuring her that God had decreed that neither the flour nor the oil would finish until God sends rain upon the earth. She went ahead and did what Elijah asked her to do and the promise was fulfilled. Her household never lacked any food throughout the period. In the gospel reading we encounter another widow. During the offering time in the Synagogue she went like others to make an offering but our Lord identified her offering as peculiar. She gave two copper coins (about a penny) but according to our Lord it was the greatest of all because from the little she had she gave everything.
We have here very interesting stories bothering on giving to God or giving for God’s sake. Put in another way we are presented with the invitation to tender and not to tamper God’s own portion. It is most touchy that the subjects of the stories belonged to the lowest rung of the society. Widows then belonged to the same cadre as those considered to be without anything like orphans and strangers (Deut. 14:29; Mal.3:5).The two widows had faith in their willingness to give.
Furthermore they gave selflessly (and unconditionally) without the thought of what they would gain from their generosity. They were moved to give because of the conviction that the little they had came from God. They were poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) because they relied solely on God. We can say that they left themselves in God’s hands. At that time women saw their husbands as their lords (1 Pet. 3:6). As lords, husbands took total care of their wives; in fact their existence had a lot to do with their husbands. With this, one could imagine the fate of a widow who had nobody to reckon as a lord. It is based on this that God suffices as the husband of the widows (Isaiah 54:4; Psalm 68:5). They were physically widowed but spiritually married to God whose nature is charity.
Evidently the bible did not give us the names of the two widows so that we can insert our names in those stories. How many of us can be bold enough to replicate the deed of the widow of Zarephath by accepting the “inconvenience” of providing for those working in His vineyard even when there seems to be nothing? How many of us will be as self-effacing as the widow in the gospel who gave ALL she had because God’s portion needed to tendered. Imagine how much you spend on yourself every week and what you give to God within the same space of time. God forbid that I give him the least in my pocket! There are some of us, using the Nigerian context, who fall within the category of those who from their abundance offer God 5 naira every Sunday. The breakdown runs thus
5 Naira = Every Sunday
In four week = 20 naira
In three months = 60 naira
In six month = 120 naira
In one year =240 naira. (This is less than 2 dollars).
There are some people who feel that 20 naira is ideal. Let us look at this very well:
20 naira = Every Sunday
In four weeks = 80 naira
In three months = 240 naira
In six month = 480 naira
In one year = 960 naira. (This is less than 7 dollars).
There are still others who feel that 50 naira is so great. Let us look at this also.
50 naira = Every Sunday
In four weeks = 200 naira
In three months = 600 naira
In six months = 1,200 naira
In one year = 2,400 naira (This is less than 20 dollars).
I wish to stop so far and have each and every one of us work out his or her offering status. It is good to remark here that there is nothing we can give to God that can be said to be very sufficient. What if we buy the air we breathe? What if we are required to recharge the air we breathe? But he had given it to us free! At some instances God had to frown at people’s lack of appreciation to him (Mal 3:8ff). We have to reconsider our offering quotient today. This may not be only in terms of monetary offering. There are indeed many things we can offer ranging from our time to our talents as well as our souls.
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!