THE WIDOW‚S MITE

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP
(Part 4)

THE WIDOW‚S MITE


November 22, 2010
Today‚s reading: Luke 21:1-4

Today the gospel of Luke brings us to the story of the widow and her contribution to the temple treasury. Here we have a profound lesson to learn about financial stewardship.

We know that we are to support the life and mission of the Church through our finances. We basically do this through a tithe, that is, 10% of our income. However, very few Christians, and much less Catholics, actually give a full 10% (if they give anything at all). To these, God has a harsh word. They are robbing God and so are accursed (Mal 3:7-9).

For those who do give something, they fall short. The rich do not give a full tithe because the amount is too big. It amuses me (disturbs me) that people can more easily give a full tithe when their income is small, but are reluctant to give the full 10% when their income becomes large. How incongruous that is! Look on the 90% and not on the 10%! See how much more you have left over after the tithe. On the other hand, the poor do not give a full tithe because their finances are too small. The rich, being able to afford it, have no excuse and rightly deserve condemnation. The poor however may have good reasons not to give a full tithe, such as not having enough food for the day-to-day needs of the family. But the story of the widow brings us to a profound challenge.

Let us look at the story. Jesus is in the temple and observes the rich putting their offerings into the treasury, and also a widow putting in her two small coins. The contrast could not be starker. The others are wealthy. The widow is poor. In fact, in Israel at that time, to be a widow was to be destitute. They had no one to care for them, and they had no standing in society. They needed to just fend for themselves, and oftentimes just begged for their needs. The rich people put in large sums (Mk 12:41), while the poor widow put in a measly amount.

What does Jesus do? Does he tell the widow to no longer give her small offering and just keep it for herself? Knowing that she would probably go hungry because she was giving the little that she had, did he stop her from giving? Did Jesus slip her a little money later on while whispering to her that he appreciated her generosity of heart? No! Jesus just let her give. And then he extolled her. He considered her small offering as more than all the rest (Lk 21:3). The rich would not miss what they gave, having given from their surplus wealth, and would go on with their lavish lifestyles, but the poor widow gave from her poverty and offered her whole livelihood (Lk 21:4). Knowing her generosity would impact greatly on her life and her needs, Jesus still allowed her to make the sacrifice.

How about us? The argument (whether true or just a rationalization) people often give for not giving a full tithe is that their money is not enough for their own needs. Let me tell you, if that is our excuse, we will never give adequately to God. What we need to consider is not our seeming need, but the condition of our hearts. And in this story is the challenge to us. Hardly anyone could be as poor as that widow. Jesus has in effect raised this poor widow as the model for those who say they do not have enough and thus do not give.

But let us not be inconsiderate of needs, and let us then consider the practicalities. What if we really do not have enough for our needs? Well, first examine if that is true. What do we spend on? Perhaps there are things there that we do not need to spend on for ourselves.

But what if we really do not have enough? Well, consider this. Let us assume you do not have enough now. If you get a 10% or 20% raise in pay, would you have enough? Most probably not. You would still be spending it all. Why? Because, as our pay rises, we also raise our standard of living. We acquire more things, we eat better food, we go out for entertainment more often, we have a more extended vacation, we buy a new car, we now have investments, etc. Ironically enough, we praise God for providing, not realizing how we are robbing Him.

Now consider the other way. What if our pay is cut by 10% or 20%? That has happened to many given the worldwide economic crisis. Does our life end? No! What we do is we adjust. We tighten our belts, we do not go shopping, we cut down on entertainment, we forgo the vacation, we stay with our old car, etc. And if times are really hard, we just stick to the essentials, such as food and simple clothing (1 Tim 6:8). We might even make radical moves such as changing our house to a much smaller one, or sending out children to schools with lower tuition.

So it might not be so much a case of what we need (or believe we need). It actually is a case of generosity. And it is a case of priorities. It is seeing what God is about in the world, and that for the body that He entrusted to bring His good news of salvation to all, He makes Himself dependent on „our‰ money. Do we then indulge ourselves (even the poor do so), or do we honor God by giving financial support to the Church, even in our need?

Let us then look to adjusting our spending so that we can give money to God and the needs of His Church. The widow gave out of her poverty. Hers was a true need. And thus hers was true generosity, enough to be extolled by Jesus himself.

In fact, could our continuing financial shortage actually be a result of our failure to give what is due to God? I leave that for another time.

For now, let us look at the privilege and honor of giving from our need. And when you are tempted to rationalize a failure to give or to give adequately, think about the widow. Think about how happy and fulfilled you would be if Jesus said to you what he said about her.

Discussion starter for household meeting:
Examine your own finances and share about what you could actually do without, in order to lessen your expenses and be able to honor God with a tithe.

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