The story of Austine Perine from Birmingham Alabama would give you chills. The four-year-old African American boy was watching Animal Planet with his father when a mother Panda abandons her cub and walks away. Austin’s dad quickly remarks that the cub would become homeless. Austin was moved with pity for the cub when he learns from the dad that being homeless means not having a home to stay and not receiving the care of a dad and mom.
On a later date, Austin’s dad, TJ Perine takes him to a homeless shelter in the city at his request to see what it means to be homeless. When Austin saw people looking hungry and tired, he asked his dad if they could give them Burger King chicken sandwich. His father did not prepare for that, but he couldn’t but responded to Austin’s recommendation to feed the homeless.
After that, Austin requested that the parents convert the money for his toys to buying chicken sandwiches for the homeless. Every week, the superhero who is also known as “President Austin,” would dress up in a blue top and pants with a red cape and visit the homeless to hand them food and would always say to them “remember to show love.” Soon he became phenomenal in the city and later in the country. Soon the Austins started getting support from people and organizations including $1,000 monthly allowance from Burger King to feed the homeless every week.
Last Sunday, our Lord told us that the First Commandment is Love of God and our neighbor. The liturgy of this Sunday uses the narrative of two widows from the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate the love of neighbor and God in action through the virtue of giving.
The First Reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) tells us about the encounter between Elijah and a widow at Zarephath. The background is that there was famine in the city following Elijah’s declaration of the word of God that there would be neither dew nor rain except by the word of God.
When the famine started, God asked Elijah to move to the Wadi Cherith where ravens fed him, and he drank from the wadi. However, the wadi dried up after a while, and God asked Elijah to go Zarephath to meet with a poor widow who would provide for him.
Elijah met the widow by the gate of the city where she was gathering sticks, and he requested for water. While she was about to get the water, he asked for a bit of bread, but the widow tells him that she had nothing baked and she was gathering the sticks to bake the handful of flour in her jar and a little oil for herself and her child to eat and wait for death. Elijah encourages her to bake the bread and bring to him while assuring her that neither the jar of flour nor the jug of oil would finish until God sends rain to the earth.
The Gospel Reading (Mark 12:38-44) tells us about a widow whom our Lord identified as a generous giver because she donated to the treasury, two small coins (the equivalent of few cents). In the words of our Lord Jesus, the poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. While the others contributed from their surplus wealth, from her poverty, the widow contributed all she had.
From the story of Austin Perine, through the narratives of the widows, we could locate one common denominator, and that is the willingness to give or put in another way, the Giving Might. In the First Reading, the widow was very willing to fulfill the initial request of Elijah for a cup of water without questioning his identity or giving excuses with the prevailing drought. Furthermore, she did not argue about the possibility of receiving the miracle of flour and oil after giving out the little she had.
In the Gospel Reading, the widow decided to give God all she had. The passage did not tell us why she had to do that, but her reason could not be far from her faith in God and the willingness to give all. Notice that her contribution goes in line with the instruction on loving God with everything that is available to us.
The giving might makes the story of the widow more profound. We are living in a society where the acquisition and the hoarding of wealth have become norms. People move from being rich to being super-rich and mega-rich, but they make no efforts to reach out to others. Giving is one of the essential characteristics of God. God is a giver, and we are invited to replicate God by becoming givers.
In the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving occupies a strategic place. In the Gospel of Luke (6:37), our Lord says give and there will gifts for you, a full measure pressed down running over will be put into your lap. We saw this happening with the widow in the First Reading. In the Gospel of Matthew (6:1-4) our Lord tells us not to practice our giving to get the attention of people as the hypocrites do in the Synagogues and the streets for public recognition. He goes on to recommend that one’s right hand should not know what the left hand is doing while practising giving.
In the Gospel today, the widow did not give her last two coins to attract people’s attention, there was nothing physically attractive about her little donation. However, the widow’s mites were attractive to God because of the might of her giving. In God’s weighing balance, what matters is not the quantity of what one gives but the heart that gives. Generous people give from their hearts not from their wealth. For this reason, St. Paul says that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), not a cheerful gift.
We hear people talk about their widow’s mite while making donations. Sometimes those donations are but very insignificant fractions of what they have. Such people should be talking about relating to the widow’s giving might more than her mite because they often have more than mites.
All we have are gifts from God. When we give, we are only trying to appreciate God with what he has given to us. In one of his implosive praises to God, David says (I Chron. 29:12, 14):
Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. But who am I, and what is my people that we should be able to make freewill offering? For all things come from you and of your own have we given you.
Giving is not a suggestion it is instead a religious injunction. The book of Proverbs (19:17) tells us that whoever is generous lends to the Lord and He will repay the person for his deeds. Our judgment before God would depend on our giving ability especially to those in need. (Matt. 25:31ff).
As we reflect on the rare acts of the widows in the liturgy of today, let us try to adopt their giving might as a guiding principle. How devoted are you to give your time, talent, and treasure assist in the work of God and to show some love to someone like Austin Perine?
I wish you a lovely Sunday and a glorious week ahead.