Gift from the Heart and the Gift of Oneself

A Reflection for 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
1Kings 17:10-16 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:38-44.

When I go through the messages, letters and magazines coming across my desk from charity organizations and missionary congregations in various parts of the world, I see in them messages of hope and blessing for the less- privileged. I see in them the generosity of the very many people who give open-handedly towards the care of the poor. As Christians, we are called to look out for the needs of our neighbours and to provide them with care. We respond as generously and as often as we can, perhaps by donating supplies to food banks, or by giving direct financial assistance to the needy and to charitable organizations. Today’s word of God gives us examples of people’s total trust in God, and of their offerings prompted by their hearts of love for God.

The 1st reading is the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, and of how she took a leap of faith to place her trust in Elijah’s words – so much so that she sacrificed the last of the food she had for herself and her son. The Gospel reading is about another widow who sacrificed the last of the money she had to God by putting it into the Temple offertory.

Thinking of the generosity of the two widows, as well as the donations of the other people going out of the Temple (the place of sacrifice), it reminds me that whenever we ourselves are making a donation, we give something from what we can spare, something we consider to be surplus to our own requirements. We give away what we can offer from a comfortable position. The point being made in the readings is that the widows were prepared to give everything to God and for God out of love for Him.

Today’s word of God draws our attention to how Jesus assesses our capacity for kindness, charity and generosity. Jesus is telling us that what counts in our expression of charity is the generosity of our hearts. What makes a gift truly valuable in God’s eyes is not its size or its amount but what motivated it: He’s looking for the love and the sacrifice behind its offering. While people tend to measure others by their physical appearance, their possessions or the financial value of their presents, Christ measures each one of us by the content of “the heart”, by which we mean “the inner person”. Because His gaze penetrates the soul, He sees the motives behind the actions. What wins us the Lord’s favour and earns us His commendation is when He sees that, deep down our hearts, we are not selfish, that we are ready to make sacrifices for His sake as and when they are needed. The more we place our trust in Him to supply our own needs, the more selfless we become, and the more we open ourselves to His love.

The 2nd reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us about Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. The God-man, fully human and fully divine, offered Himself for us, consciously and willingly laying down His life for us, emptying Himself as an acceptable offering to the Father to obtain our salvation. The Church which He was instituting during His life on earth was widowed when He offered Himself sacrificially to save humanity from sin and death. From Jesus’ supreme sacrifice, we learn that the best gift we ourselves can make to God is not a financial offering or something we can buy for Him. The best gift we can offer Him is something infinitely more precious: it’s ourselves. What God is looking for is for us to offer Him our whole being, our love, our friendship and our lives. He desires our hearts, our real selves, not our possessions!

Probably each one of us can claim to be charitable towards other people. We hand over things that we can spare. Now, think hard about what you yourself can render to God. The gift of the self to God in love is the hardest thing for us to part with. The self isn’t going spare: the self is actually you yourself. Self-abandonment to God in love is hard to do. Why? Because it involves the denial of yourself, placing your total trust in God, and resigning yourself totally to the will of God. If you can give yourself totally to God, then you will receive the joyous gift of seeing the hand of God at work in all things. You will be able to find peace of mind and soul in the midst of any situation you encounter in life, whether in plenty or in lack, whether in wealth or in poverty, strength or weakness, health or infirmity. If you can summon up the courage and the will offer yourself totally to God, you will never be overpowered by the world, nor will you be controlled by the tides and forces of the world. The joy, the peace and the love of God will always be found in you. You will be totally free of entanglement in the world.

Are you ready to give your whole self to Jesus the Christ? When you become God’s own through your self-offering, then every genuine need of yours will be met. Your focus will be on loving God, on serving Him, and on serving other people for His sake.

I conclude with St Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer of self-offering. “Take O Lord and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, You have given me. I surrender it all to you to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace. With these, I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more”. Amen. God bless you.