Giving Our All
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
November 11, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on November 11, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; and Mark 12:38-44.

Today’s gospel passage is about the widow giving her last two cents to the Temple, and it challenges us to re-examine our own priorities. Our first reading – about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath – picks up this same theme. However, let’s provide some additional context to the Elijah story to highlight how dramatically it relates to our gospel passage.  

Elijah appears out of nowhere in the Bible, declaring to King Ahab that there will be a drought of several years. God then commands Elijah to hide at the Wadi Cherith – a tributary of the Jordan River – and God has ravens provide him with bread and meat twice a day. Not a bad way to live during a drought!

But eventually, the drought catches up with Elijah and the Wadi Cherith runs dry.  God then sends Elijah into the foreign land of Sidon, telling him that a widow there will provide for him. Apparently, God doesn’t tell the widow that she’s part of his plan. And yet, this far into the drought, this widow – who does not worship God, by the way – willingly shares the little water that she has. But the food she has is so minimal, it cannot be split among her, her son, and Elijah. Yet somehow, God provides.

God provides for us at every moment of our lives. Let us take a moment to reflect on his abundant gifts for us, including the gift of mercy.

The widow “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” 

Do you find this beautiful… 

…or disturbing? 

What happened to the widow the next day when she was hungry? Is it prudent for us to give everything to God?  

I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’ve contributed all I had to God, but those moments have been few and far between. The most notable was the spring of 2004. I had been discerning about becoming a priest for almost three years, but I just wasn’t getting anywhere in my discernment. So, after a lot of praying and sweating and shaking, I decided to quit my good-paying engineering job, move back in with my parents, and devote myself to full-time discernment.

It was scary. And, from a secular point of view, it probably seemed pretty stupid. But you know what? 2004 was, hands down, the most amazing year of my life. By the end of the year, I had gone on 2 week-long retreats, taken an 83-day, 43-state, 20,000-mile roadtrip, and I was convinced that God was calling me to apply to the Paulist novitiate. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken the risk!

Does Jesus call us to give our whole selves as the widow did? There are some great saints – such as Francis of Assisi or Theresa of Kolkata – who show us that it is a possible, even a blessed way to live. But for many of us, it’s impractical and irresponsible to live on that edge of risk at every moment of every day. We have responsibilities to our families, to our co-workers, and to society in general.

We live in a world of infinite need. Even if we gave away all our money today, millions of our brothers and sisters would still be going to bed hungry tonight. And the next day, we would have to join the bread lines.

Some of us don’t have much money, but each of us has talents, but we often have to use those talents to meet our obligations to school, to work, and to family.

We may each have different amounts of treasure and talent, but all of us have the exact same amount of time in a day. But there are so many things to do. Most of us delude ourselves into thinking that in the next stage of our lives, we’ll have more time than we do now. I hate to break it to you who haven’t figured it out yet, but life rarely works that way.

So, now that we’ve provided reasons for why we can’t or we shouldn’t literally give our last cent away today for the sake of the gospel, let’s kick it up a notch. Each of us must discern the appropriate ways to give our treasure, our talents, and our time to God. Each of us needs to discern when the Holy Spirit is inviting us to take risks. Most of us can tell tales of other people who aren’t willing to prioritize or risk appropriately. I think of engaged couples with high-paying jobs and extravagant wedding plans who refuse to give any of their money to charity. I think of family caregivers who end up in the hospital themselves because they didn’t make their own health a priority. I think of old friends who I care for deeply, but we can’t find the time to respond to each other’s e-mails or phone calls. 

The Dalai Lama put it another way: 

Man… sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

How do we discern when God is calling us to take risks with the money, the abilities, and the time he’s given us? Three ideas:  

The first is about priorities. Each of us must continually examine how we dole out our treasure, our talent, and our time. Our lives continue to evolve, and even if we found the perfect balance of apportioning things among God, neighbor, and self, circumstances will likely change in a few weeks so that we’ll have to re-adjust our priorities.  

The second is about attitude. Jesus taught us that loving God, neighbor, and self are interrelated. So, it’s possible to care for ourselves and for our loved ones with a conscious attitude that we are doing it in a way to better serve God and our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Think of it this way: St. Paul tells us to pray always.  Does that mean that if we pray 23½ hours a day, we have failed to live out his command? Not necessarily, if we approach everything in our lives with a prayerful attitude!

The third is about trust. If we delude ourselves into thinking that we can provide for ourselves without God’s assistance, we’ll never feel that we have any treasure, talent, or time to give to others. The most wonderful things in my life have happened when I’ve taken risks and trusted in God.  

So how do we negotiate the opportunities to lavish our God-given gifts in ways contrary to common sense? With prayer and discernment. It’s a constant struggle. We’ll probably never negotiate the opportunities perfectly, but we’ll surely do a better job if we consult with the Holy Spirit!