Give ’Til It Hurts

This week’s Gospel narrative paints one of the most moving and heartwarming scenes in all of Scripture: the story of the widow’s mite. The story provides us with key insights into what God expects of us in terms of our generosity. While much of the attention in the story focuses upon the small amount given by this woman, it is often forgotten that it was actually a widow who made the contribution. Widows and orphans were afforded special protections among the Jews. They were considered to be among the most vulnerable in society since they had little to no means of income. These protections were even codified in the Law of Moses.

When the widow made her contribution, it was a very heroic act because her donation was truly sacrificial. For our Lord, the amount of the gift itself matters less than the actual cost to the donor. The real value in giving is not the actual gift itself but the sacrifice it imposes on the giver. True sacrificial giving hurts. It is difficult for most people to reduce personal spending so as to contribute to the needs and the works of the Church. In our own time, we even see an increase in the unwillingness to give to the Church unless there is a quid pro quo arrangement involved.

The widow’s contribution was two mites — worth barely a penny. Jesus places greater weight on her gift because while others contributed more in actual monetary value, it cost the widow everything she had. There is a certain type of recklessness in sacrificial giving. The widow might have decided to keep one of the two mites for herself. Instead, she didn’t hold back. This type of total self-giving is a challenge for every person, no matter what vocation they are called to live. It is often assumed that priests and religious need not be generous with their limited incomes because they have already given their lives. Yet, even priests and religious are expected to give generously to the works of the Church. A newly ordained priest on the day of his ordination asked an elderly priest for some sagely advice, just minutes after the ordination Mass was complete. The elderly priest said to the newly minted priest, “Father, you just gave your entire life to Christ. Don’t spend the rest of it trying to earn it back.”

Finally, we do well to ponder the fact that the person Jesus chose to give us as a pattern of generosity was a person who made an almost valueless contribution to the temple, insofar as actual monetary value goes. This should remind us that whenever we think that we have very little to give to God, He can do plenty with almost nothing, as long as we are willing to give it all away. When true sacrificial giving takes place, Jesus is never outdone in generosity.

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