11/7/21 Homily: Total Gift
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
At a certain point in the ministry of Jesus, he referred to a widow from the land of Zarephath. You might recall the scene. It happened when Jesus visited his hometown. When challenged by the people at Nazareth to perform signs, Jesus had said: “Amen… I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to the widow of Zarephath, in the land of Sidon...”
In our first reading today from the First Book of Kings, we hear about that very widow of Zarephath. And her example bears a striking resemblance to the example of the widow in our gospel passage:
At Zarephath in Sidon, the widow fed the prophet Elijah with the last of her food, fully expecting that she and her son would soon afterwards die of starvation. In our gospel passage, the widow gave all that she had—her whole livelihood—to the Temple treasury.
There’s a certain law of the gospel at work in both examples which Jesus tries to impart to his disciples, as he sits with them near the treasury, observing the many gift-givers. This will be his last public appearance before he is betrayed and arrested. And in that quiet moment with his disciples, he wants to give them one final lesson. And the lesson is this: our offering has value according to the sacrifice involved. It has to cost us. And it may cost us everything.
This is a lesson that Jesus had tried to teach his disciples again and again. With regard to the widow’s offering in today’s gospel, it wasn’t the quantity of the gift that was so striking—not in absolute monetary terms, which amounted to about a penny. Rather, it was what she held back that was so remarkable. She held back nothing. She gave everything she had.
We’ve seen that summons to go all in before. Remember the parable of the treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Recall the parable of the merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Each used everything at their disposal to acquire the one thing of lasting value.
A few weeks ago, we heard of the rich young man to whom Jesus said: “sell all that you have and give the money to the poor; then come and follow me”. Jesus was calling him to go all in.
Just this past Friday, we heard the parable of the dishonest steward who used everything at his disposal to earn a place for himself in the future that awaited him.
In all of these examples, the widow in our gospel today simply being the latest, we find men and women willing and able to go all in. It reminds me of Texas Hold’em. Rather than nickel-and-dime one’s wealth away ante after ante in a steady decline, victory goes to the one who’s able to go all in and bet everything on that one winning hand; to lay everything on the table.
That capacity of going all in is part of the genius of humanity. Leonardo De Vinci specialized in art, despite his talent in medicine. Michelangelo is remembered for his painting and sculpture, not his talents in other areas. Einstein is remembered for his contribution to physics; not for his poetry. The boundaries of humanity throughout history have always been pushed by those who were able to focus their resources.
What’s true for these giants of history is especially true for the rest of us. When we pride ourselves on being well-rounded, or our ability to multi-task--when we ourselves and our resources across a broad spectrum of things, we turn our backs on that very specific gift of mankind: the ability to put all of our resources behind a single passion.
I mentioned that Jesus tried to teach his disciples this lesson time after time. But that lesson will not fully sink in until gives them one last example; the one that soars above all.
Our God has chosen to go all in for your sake and mine [gesturing to the Crucifix]. The entirety of his divinity was poured into a human nature. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross. The God-man went all in for you and for me, with the hope that we would do likewise. That we would take up our cross and follow after him.
He is the Father’s offering for our salvation. As we hear in John 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son." The Father sacrificed his only-begotten Son. As the widow’s coins were not her surplus but her livelihood, the Son is not the surplus of the Father, but his entire livelihood; the heart of his heart. He is Mary's offering, as well. He is her Son, the flesh of her flesh. They literally laid everything on the table. They placed everything on the altar of sacrifice for you and for me.
What is my sacrifice? Have I gone all in in response? That’s a question we each are challenged to ask ourselves this day.