1 Kings 17:10-16
Holy Mother Church teaches us traditionally that there are seven precepts (or commands) of the Church, six of these are listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2041-2043 (five chronologically, the other immediately following), and the other one, not listed in the present Catechism directly but alluded to in other parts of it, is the precept to observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage. It is often taught that today’s Gospel directly concerns the precept of the Church which says that the Faithful are required “to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his ability.” (See Code of Canon Law 222). This can certainly be said to be true, but the reality is that what is happening in today’s Gospel concerns so much more than a beautiful offering given in faith, although it does tell us that story.
Even more than the faith of the Widow, Jesus wishes to impart to us through her story that to follow Him requires self-sacrifice, indeed it may require great sacrifice of our own needs for the greater needs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells us that the Widow put in her whole livelihood, the Revised Standard Version makes it clear that this was all that she had to live on. To the rest of the people there, her gift probably didn’t look like much, but Jesus makes clear that her gift was worth more in the eyes of God anyone else who presented their tithes and offerings at the temple that day.
Neither Jesus nor Holy Mother Church are asking us to donate our entire livelihood to the work of the Church and the care of the poor, indeed the Church has always used language which says that we give according to our ability to do so, but what Jesus is asking about today is not to give to the Church or to her saving work merely out of our leftover money, but to give to the Lord’s work in a spirit of sacrificial giving. God cares less about how much we are able to give to His work, and cares more that when we do, we give Him the best. This isn’t because God wants to take from us, but rather because our love for Jesus Christ, if it is is real and true, requires that the best we have is what we ought to desire to give to Him, not merely our leftovers when we have put our resources into the luxuries, amusements, and passing fancies of our own Earthly life.
What should be our guide to how best to support the work of the Church? The Book of Proverbs tells us “honor the Lord with your substance and the first fruits of all your produce then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10) The Book of Tobit tells us that while the Israelites were committing apostasy by worshiping Ba’al, Tobit went often to Jerusalem for the feasts, and took the first fruits and the tithes of his produce and the first shearings, saying “I would give these to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar.” (cf. Tobit 1:6) This means that whatever we give to God, we ought to give our very best to Him.
Contrary to what a lot of television preachers seem to teach these days, the Lord does not promise us that if we give to his work here on Earth, we will accumulate great wealth or personal prosperity as a result. He does promise us that we will be blessed, although we don’t always know what form these blessings will take, and we may not even see some of them in this life. Perhaps the most important promise we are given how about supporting the work of the Lord through temporal means here on Earth is that our own needs will be supplied. God does not tell us how he intends to do that, but in our first reading today he gives us a glaring example.
The Prophet Elijah was on a journey to the city of Zarephath, this was a Gentile place where most of the people did not worship the Lord. He asked the Widow in our reading, who had very little sustenance to support even herself and her son in a time of famine, if she might give him a little water and a cake of bread. The lady had so little that she told the prophet that she was gathering sticks to go in and cook something for herself and her son “and when we have eaten and we shall die.” The prophet asks her to bring him bread anyway, and he promises her that her flower jar and her oil jug will not go empty or run dry.
The Sacred Text does not tell us exactly what it was that God did to make the miracle happen, but it does tell us that in giving bread to the Prophet Elijah, that the needs of this woman and her son were met for the next year, she didn’t run out of flour or oil until the rains came and the drought ended. Scripture does not tell us that the Lord provided this woman and her son with great abundance, wealth, or prestige because they gave to the Lord’s work, but it is made clear to us that the needs of these poor people were met because they gave of themselves and what little they had for the good of God’s work in feeding the prophet.
There will almost certainly be some people who hear or read these words who may say to themselves as they do “that sounds wonderful, but all I’m able to do is just barely scrape by, I don’t have a lot to give to the Church. you may not have cash or assets to give first fruits to to the Lord with, but you do have talents that God gave you, and you do have time and energy. And if you can’t give you your money, you can give those things, and they are often far more valuable to the work we do for the Kingdom of God than any gift of money that anyone could give.
We live in a time, I’m sorry to say, of great scandal in the Church for many. There is neither the time nor the ability to explain why that is in a short homily if you have not heard any preaching about it in recent weeks. (You’ve heard a little bit of that preaching from the mouth of this deacon, if you were here to hear it.) Because of this time of Scandal, many people in their anger are saying that they are going to refuse to give their tithes and offerings, and in some cases even their time or talent for the work of the Church. We cannot tell the People of God what to do in terms of the giving of their offerings, talents, and time. However, we all must be reminded that bishops, priests, and deacons come and go, but the need to spread the Gospel and care for the marginalized does not go away, and the Church will not go away, Jesus promised us that much.
Some of us refuse to give up on Holy Mother Church because we understand that for all of her faults, she is still the Sacrament of Salvation to a lost world. As long as the people of God are still coming, the Church still needs us to do what the Widow did in the Gospel today. To give not out of guilt, or even a sense of requirement, but out of self-sacrificial love of God and His Kingdom.