Sacrificial Giving: "Her Whole Livelihood"
I’m going to say something radical; something that every pastor in the diocese, and even the archbishop would probably want to kill me for saying: God doesn’t care about what I give in my envelope. The numbers on the check, the amount of George Washington’s, Abe Lincoln’s, or Andrew Jackson’s is not important to Jesus. The amount of zeros I include on my Give Central donation does not impress the Lord in the least. The size of my wallet is not what God uses to measure my worth.
However, to hold that Jesus said nothing about giving or donating to support the Church and the mission of people of faith would be incorrect. His attention today to the people who were making their offerings to the Temple treasury offers a glimpse into His attitude toward stewardship and sacrificial giving that would be helpful for us to consider this weekend.
Beginning with Elijah’s encounter with the poor widow, we learn what it means to truly trust in God and offer oneself wholly for Him in faith. When the prophet asks for a cup of water, the woman easily complies. This was normal hospitality for people in the Middle East; comfort for a visitor was the least one could do. When Elijah pressed her for even more, she hesitates and objects. She has no more to give without limiting herself and her son. However, the prophet is speaking not simply for himself but for God. He knows that such generous and selfless act would be rewarded by God, and he promises this blessing to her. With her complete gift of what she and her son had, she found the fullness of life that God has to offer us all.
The poor widow in the Gospel is meant to recall that same encounter. Her offering of two small coins was “all she had, her whole livelihood.” Jesus recognizes this fully selfless gift and praises it as “more than all the other contributors,” because her offering was grounded on the fact that God had to provide for her and her family. If others gave out of the surplus, then they knew that they had a “safety net” to rely on afterward. The implication of this attitude is that they didn’t need to rely on God since they still had what they wanted in their pockets. The woman, however, had nothing left; and she therefore walked away with everything.
The challenge of these readings this weekend is to ask us how we are giving to God. Like I said, God doesn’t care what is in my envelope, and I stand by that. However, what He doescare about is the heart that has considered that gift. Is my giving whole-hearted? Does it reflect a complete reliance on God, or is it tinted with my insecurity, my skepticism, my fear about what the future will bring – as if God would forget me?
We speak of “sacrificial giving” in the Church – giving that actually pinches us, that we can feel – because every aspect of our being should be touched by our relationship with God and our gratitude for that relationship. When Jesus speaks of that woman’s “whole livelihood,” the word he uses is “bios,” whence we get the word “biology.” It means life – all of life – our physical life that can be vulnerable, threatened, and uncertain. However, her giving placed all of that – her whole life – in God’s hands. The implied promise of Jesus, as with Elijah, is that God sees this loving gift and rewards it.
What about us? Is our giving to the Church a reflection of this gratitude? Are we willing to place our “whole livelihood” in God’s hands, rather than holding back for ourselves – “just in case God doesn’t come through”? Is that real faith?
This Fall, I want us all to consider our own sacrificial giving through our support of our Parishes. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, and yes, I don’t enjoy talking about it. As I was preparing this week, I realized that as I had gotten a small raise this year, my giving in the Offertory had not gone up. So, I have increased my own regular offering by $5 each week. Maybe you can do this too. It takes a little consideration, a little math, and a serious reflection on my faith in God’s goodness to me – both in the past andin the future. The joy of giving is found not in the recompense that one receives, but instead in the knowledge that our faith is well-placed.
Jesus knew this when He offered Himself for us – His whole life – like the widows we meet today. We can share in that sacrifice in all aspects of our lives. Jesus’ full trust in His Father was what led to the joy of the resurrection. That trust is the measure of the disciple; not the size of the wallet, but the size of the heart, the size of our faith. So too may our trust in God’s generosity inspire our own gifts of our lives.