Homily for November 11, 2012: Fr. Scott Bullock

Mk 12:41-44

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood."


A pig and a chicken were walking through a poor section of the city. The chicken said to the pig, “Look at all those hungry people. Let’s give them ham and eggs for breakfast.” The pig said, “Wait a minute. For you, it’s a donation. For me, it’s a sacrifice.”

Of course, today’s gospel passage speaks about the Christian obligation to be charitable in a sacrificial manner . . . how do you feel about this? To get a sense of this, consider what I see very frequently at church—a parent gives his or her child a donation to place in the basket Usually, the child is beaming with pride and joy. Let me say that it is rare that I see an adult with such a reaction!

Today’s gospel is our opportunity to consider our attitude toward giving. To do so, let’s look more closely at the gospel, from the 12th chapter of the gospel of Mark: [In the temple of Jerusalem,] between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women there was the Beautiful Gate. . . . In the Court of the Women there were thirteen collecting boxes called ‘the Trumpets’ because they were so shaped. Each of them was for a special purpose, for instance to buy corn or wine or oil for the sacrifices [of the Temple]. They were for the contributions for the daily sacrifices and expenses of the Temple. Many people threw in quite considerable contributions. Then came a widow. She flung in two mites. The coin so called was a lepton, which literally means a thin one. It was the smallest of all coins and as worth one fortieth of one cent. And yet Jesus said that her tiny contribution was greater than all the others, for the others had thrown in what they could spare easily enough and still have plenty left, while the widow had flung in everything she had.  In doing so, she gives us a lesson in giving:

Real giving must be sacrificial.  The amount of the gift never matters so much as its cost to the giver, not the size of the gift, but the sacrifice. Real generosity gives until it hurts. For many of us it is a real question if ever our giving to God’s work is any sacrifice at all.  Few do without their pleasures to give a little more to the work of God. It may well be a sign of the decadence of the church and the failure of our Christianity that gifts have to be coaxed out of church people, and that often they will not give at all unless they get something back in the way of entertainment or of goods. There can be few of us who read this [gospel] story without shame.

Real giving has a certain recklessness in it. The woman might have kept one coin. It would not have been much but it would have been something, yet she gave everything she had. There is a great symbolic truth here. It is our tragedy that there is so often some part of our lives, some part of our activities, some part of ourselves which we do not give to Christ. Somehow there is nearly always something we hold back. We rarely make the final sacrifice and the final surrender.

It is a strange and lovely thing that the person whom the New Testament and Jesus hand down to history as a pattern of generosity was a person who gave a gift of a couple of cents. We may feel that we have not much in the way of material things or personal gifts to give to Christ, but, if we put all that we have and are at his disposal, he can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings.

So, today, Jesus gives us a barometer of the vitality, of the quality of our Christian life—our generosity: Do we give at all? Do we give out of our surplus, or out of our need? Do we give with recklessness, trusting that our God will ultimately take care of us? Can we give all to our God, or does he get only what is safe?

Jesus does not give us the example of the poor widow to lessen our lives, but to make them richer.  Can we trust his way to fuller life, can we give all we have and discover the rich life we are given in return?  

How we give—the measure of our Christian life—how we give, the measure of the vitality of our lives.