The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kings 17:10-16 + Hebrews 9:24-28 + Mark 12:38-44
November 7, 2021
“… she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
Tithing is a biblical tradition by which one can carry out the Precept to support the Church materially (CCC 2043). Yet tithing demands more from some than others. To illustrate, say that the currency that the characters in today’s Gospel passage put into the treasury was dollars. And let’s say that one of those “rich people” earned $100,000 a year, and that in today’s Gospel passage, this rich person put $10,000 into the treasury: in other words, 10% of his annual income. Certainly that’s a large sum.
So then imagine that the “poor widow” had an annual income of 20 small coins. The “two small coins” that she put into the treasury was ten percent of her annual income. But at the time of today’s Gospel passage, those “two small coins” were all she had in her possession. She had no savings or checking account, no mutual funds or IRA, no annuity, stocks, or bonds. She had no husband, no children or extended family, no Social Security or Lord’s Diner. This widow, “from her poverty, … contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
By contrast, the rich person who put ten thousand dollars into the treasury had more where that came from. As Jesus said, the rich person “contributed from [his] surplus wealth”. So while the rich person and the poor widow both may have given equal percentages of their income, the rich person still gave from his surplus, while the poor widow gave “from her poverty”.
Jesus points our attention towards—and wants us to imitate—this “poor widow” giving “from her poverty”. That’s easier said than done. But there are at least two ways to make this easier. The first is a virtue to be cultivated, and the second is a practice to be followed.
First is the virtue of trust: specifically, putting one’s trust in God. The virtue of putting trust in God first means acknowledging that God is your providential Father. God has made you for Himself, and you can only reach Him in Heaven by surrendering each day to the One who is your providential Father.
What practice, then, might help us concretely to give like the “poor widow”? It’s the practice of giving “first fruits”.
Giving God one’s first fruits is rooted in Sacred Scripture. Of course, the examples in the Bible of giving from one’s first fruits are literal, based on harvesting different grains grown by many of God’s People.
Consider a farmer with 1000 acres. In ancient times, having only primitive tools meant that it would take him a long time to harvest 1000 acres. At any point during that stretch of harvest time, bad weather could destroy the remaining crops. So for a farmer to give the fruits of the first hundred of his acres to be harvested—not knowing how much of the remaining 90% would ever be harvested—was a concrete act of trust on the part of that farmer.
So how would a modern person relate such a biblical example to giving one’s treasure to God? How could one today imitate the “poor widow” in giving one’s “first fruits”?
Maybe the simplest way would be—to use a modern expression—by giving to God off the top. If you haven’t gone green when it comes to paying bills, and if you don’t pay all your bills by means of automatic withdrawal, then each month you have a stack of paper bills to pay. Many Christians are tempted to give God from their “leftover treasure”: if, that is, there is any treasure left over after the bills are paid. Instead, you can metaphorically offer God the first fruits of your monthly treasure by giving to God a sacrificial amount before even touching the first bill that needs to be paid.
There are many other practical ways to include one’s personal finances within the sphere of one’s spiritual life, rather than falsely thinking that the two have nothing to do with each other. This inclusion—your finances within your spiritual life—demands the virtue of trust. The foundation of this trust is the wisdom that the “poor widow” demonstrated: knowing oneself to be nothing without God. Knowing oneself to be nothing without God is the foundation that allows us to give from our poverty, and allows God to bear abundant fruit through our lives.