How can someone with a bleak future and with so little in life give so generously?
This is the question on my mind as I reflect on the story of Elijah and the Zarephath widow in 1Kgs 17:10-16. It is noteworthy that as long as she focuses on herself, her plans, and her expected demise, she is reluctant to give anything to Elijah, “I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug…when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
Elijah asked her to focus on God instead and His providential plan for her, “For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” When she focused on God, she gives generously because she grasped the generosity and trustworthiness of God. She also experiences God’s generosity to her, “The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”
We too also need to make the same transition from self-focused to God-focused living if we are going to be generous to God all the time. We must avoid focusing on ourselves – our experiences, present struggles, memories, imaginations, resources, abilities, rewards, etc. Our generosity dies when we are focused on these things. But when we choose to focus on God and allow Him to reveal Himself to us in the present moment and circumstances, we obtain a true and positive image of God as a generous God. Then nothing can prevent us from giving generously when we really discover that God is more generous to us than we are to Him.
Because we are created in the image of God, nothing influences our attitude in life more than our operative image of God. We are generous only if have a good and appropriate image of God, seeing Him as ever-present, caring, generous, forgiving, merciful, etc. On the other hand, we are stingy if we have a false image of God, seeing Him as absent, distant, punishing, wicked, uncaring, etc.
The poor widow in Mt 12:38-44 does not focus on her experience of losing her husband or the probable loss of her house to the greedy scribes who “devour the houses of widows.” She does not focus on her present situation or the bad examples of the religious leaders who pretend to be religious by merely “reciting lengthy prayers.” She simply gives all that she has and as God inspires her to give at that time. She thus wins the praise and affirmation of Jesus, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” She cannot give all she had to depend on if she does not know God as generous and faithful.
This true and positive image of God is revealed to us only in Jesus Christ, “Whoever sees me, sees the One who sent me.”(Jn 12:45) Jesus, the Good Shepherd, shows His generosity for each of us by “willingly laying down His life for His sheep.”(Jn 10:11) He both reveals to us the face of our generous Father and enables us to respond with generosity to His love.
The generous Father sends His only-begotten Son to become one like us and to die for us on the cross. The generous Son dies for our sins and enters heaven “by His own blood” for our sake, “that He might now appear before God on our behalf.”(Heb 9:24,25) In Jesus Christ, God suffered, died, and rose from the grave and now “lives to intercede for us.”(Heb 7:25) Talk about divine generosity!
Even His return in glory is an act of generosity on His part, “He will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.” How can we wait for Him eagerly if we are focused on ourselves, our abilities, resources, experiences, expectations, etc.? We show that we are indeed waiting for Him by our generosity in everything that we do – our prayer life, our life of service and witness to Christ, our love for others, our unceasing repentance from sin and striving for holiness, our offering forgiveness to others, our commitments to each other, our faithfulness to the Church and her teachings, etc.
Let us remind ourselves today that, because we are saved by the generosity of Christ, eternal salvation is not for stingy souls. Heavenly glory is not for souls that hold back in giving themselves for the sake of the One who gave His life for us on the cross. Heaven is not for those who are busy calculating how much they get from what they give to God. Salvation is not for souls who make endless excuses for not giving as God inspires them to give.
We shall experience the fullness of divine generosity in heaven where we shall receive eternal praise from God. Jesus, who praised the poor widow who gave her last two cents, continues to affirm and praise generous souls here on earth and in heaven. Such souls may not hear those affirming words here on earth but will surely hear them forever in heaven with great joy, “Well done, good and faithful servant…; enter into the joy of your master.”(Mt 25:23)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our generosity does not and should not depend on our abilities, resources, or experiences. It also should not depend on what we get back now from our giving. It does not depend on our circumstances such that we futilely long for a better time to give. In addition, our generosity cannot depend on the example of authority figures inside and outside the Church.
Our generosity depends on the focus of our minds and hearts: on God or ourselves. More than what we actually give, God looks more at the disposition of our hearts as we give. He wants us to give from our right and positive image of Himself that He has placed on our hearts in baptism. Let us learn to look at Him now and always so that His true image may be alive in us always, especially when He invites us to give ourselves generously to others for His sake. Like Mama Mary who gratuitously visited Elizabeth to serve her in time of need, we too can be generous to others always simply because we see God as generous to us all the time, “He who is mighty has done great things for me.”(Lk 1:49)
Our Eucharistic Lord is the very “image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) In and through each Eucharist, He wants to refashion, deepen, and renew in us the living image of His generous heart. Will we let Him reveal Himself to us and save us from our warped image of God? It is only when we have that true and positive image of God and allow that image to become operative and effective in us that we can hope to be generous to God and others in all circumstances of our lives, just as God is always generous to us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!