Nov 7, 2015

32nd Sunday - "Can I give it all away?"

(Sunday readings: click on picture to the right)

"This poor widow has given all she had,
her whole livelihood."

(Mk 12: 44)

Christian writer C.S. Lewis begins his essay entitled “Let’s pretend” with a short example about a man who wore a mask. 

He tells of an unattractive man who wore a more attractive mask for many years. He dressed up as another person in a sense.  After a long period of time, he one day took off the mask and noticed that his face had conformed to the shape of the more attractive mask and he was changed into something he only could hope to become.  Would that it was all that easy! 

But the point Lewis makes is that we, as followers of Christ, are called to a new form; a new image and a significant change to be more like Christ himself, the Son of God and the perfect human being.  The beast in us must be tamed and the ugliness of sin replaced by the more beautiful. While the change is not meant to be physical, it is meant to be one of character and holiness in our Christian life.  The best way to do this, Lewis writes, is to imitate Jesus; to pretend to be like him not in an arrogant way, but through humility, love and generosity. In a sense to put on his mask and allow it to become our identity.

We can learn from Christ and through constant imitation, even if it feels like pretending to be something we are not, over time we become what we imitate.  It is somewhat like learning to overcome a bad habit.  The more I replace bad behavior with good, the more over time I will learn a new way and overcome what has been holding me back. Through God’s grace all things are possible.

There is probably no better behavior than to imitate the love and generosity of God.  The ultimate example of this we hear in our second reading today from Hebrews.  Christ came to “take away sin once for all.”  The outpouring of Jesus’ life in his death and resurrection offers us the ultimate example of generosity.  Something we should daily imitate and trust that God will change us.  

The further example of the two widows in the first reading from Kings and the Gospel of Mark, may offer us a real life example.  The first widow is visited by the prophet Elijah who asks her for food after a long journey.  The problem is, she has nearly nothing and is found gathering bare existence for herself and her son.  Still, the prophet insists, which seems a little insensitive, but he assures her that God will provide if she acts in faith.  Indeed she does and she and her son have enough food for a year’s supply. She trusted in the prophet’s word and she was rewarded for that trust. In a further sense both the prophet and the widow were blessed as both were relieved from hunger. 

The second widow is the familiar story of the “widow’s mite.”  By contrast Jesus notes the very wealthy, who probably offered only what was required for the Temple treasury, leave little to impress Jesus.  Their giving is hardly sacrificial but offered in order to continue the illusion of generosity and righteousness.

So the very poor widow with barely an existence pours in the little she has: “Her whole livelihood,” as Jesus states.  Her generosity was marked by sacrifice and trust for her faith assured her, like the widow in our first reading that God would provide for those who do good.

So, there is a basic lesson here in generosity; in how and why we give.  The “law of the gift” as stated by Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that this is simply the way God has designed us and in some way maybe even nature itself.  The more that is given away, the more returns.  In order for life to continue, for example, some of life must be given away and that produces more life. 

In the case of the widows, and ourselves here, we recognize our call to imitate, to become more like Christ.  To give away ourselves is not foolish.  For in doing so, we receive back so much more.  Whether it’s sharing of time, our treasure, our knowledge, our energy, our support and love towards others we find that it all comes back to us hundredfold.  The two widows acted in faith despite having so little.   

Like C.S. Lewis’ example of the man who wore the mask, when we put on the beauty of Christ, the values of the Gospel, we over time become what we first pretend to be and later are.  To imitate the kindness of God by generously offering ourselves not for public recognition but as an act of faith in God’s care for us, we become more attractive to God himself.  God favors the humble and trusting ones.  Those on the margin, the humble and trusting who have no pretense are blessed indeed - the “poor in spirit.” 

It’s so fundamental to how we must live as Christians that to not be this way, we might say, is to no longer truly be a disciple of the Lord.  Self-centeredness and greed fly in the face of the Christian Gospel. Our celebration of the Eucharist is all about giving thanks and about allowing ourselves to be fed both in Word and Sacrament to become who we hear and feed upon. 

Put on that mask of Christ.  Follow his word, act in trust, and God will change us to become more like who we imitate. 

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)