1st Reading: 1 Kings 17:10-16; 2nd Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28; Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
THEME: KENOTIC SACRIFICE: A GATEWAY TO HEAVENLY SANCTUARY.
The true measure of a human person is not in his acquisitions (wealth, academic qualification or positions of honour), but in his character (distinctive qualities). Hence, honesty, sincerity, faithfulness and generosity, are the hallmarks of an authentic or reputable personality. Unfortunately, dishonesty, fraudulence, hypocrisy, unfaithfulness and stinginess seem to have become the norms in our contemporary society. Many people especially Christians, lack these distinctive and essential qualities in their lives; they even find it difficult to sacrifice anything for the sake of others, instead, they try to defraud others in order to enrich themselves.
In the FIRST READING, due to the generosity and willingness of the poor widow of Zarephath, who sacrificed all she had in order to satisfy Prophet Elijah when dire poverty stared on her face, God rewarded her. She believed in the prophetic utterance of Elijah: “the jar of meal shall not be emptied nor shall the jug of oil fail, until the day when the Lord sends rain to the earth (1 kings 17:14).” Hence, she, her son and entire household were spared from famine which ravaged the entire Israel.
Similarly, in the GOSPEL, while watching the crowd as they put money into the treasury, Jesus Christ observed many rich people who donated large sum of money, and also a poor widow who put in two coppers coins. Astonishingly, He said to His disciples: “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living (Mark 12:44).” Despite the fact that the rich offered more than the poor widow, yet Christ affirmed her generosity and willingness, because she offered all she had in order to enrich God’s treasury.
Meanwhile, a common trait unites the two widows in both the first and the gospel readings of today. Both of them were poor, but they generously gave all their material possessions in order to enrich others, and thus, depended on divine providence for the following day’s needs. This is contrary to what we see in our current society. For many people are money conscious; always seeking after what they will gain, and not what they can contribute for the growth of others or their society. Even when they try to contribute, they would like it to be pronounced, or they would like to create public awareness, so that, everybody would hear it and applaud them (Matthew 6:1-8).
Undoubtedly, Jesus Christ is always watching our hearts daily, to know the motives behind our conducts (honest or hypocritical); the words we speak (hurtful or consoling); the sacrifices we make (generous or stingy); as well as the opinions we express (sincere or deceitful). Whether we perform them with pure motives – for the love of God and the good of others, or they stem from ulterior motives – vain glory, selfish interest, self-aggrandizement, showoff, etc.
Moreover, the act of giving comprises of two types: quantitative and qualitative. When we give, there should be some elements of our self in what we give, which makes it more valuable and sacrificial. For real giving must be sacrificial. The amount of the gift does not matter so much as its cost to the giver, not the size of the gift, but the sacrifice. Real generosity gives until it hurts. In other words, whatever we give out, either to God or to human beings, must not be what we no longer need, but denying ourselves what we value so much. However, our generosity must be done willingly and cheerfully, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Furthermore, Jesus Christ warned us not to imitate the selfish and hypocritical attitudes of the sanctimonious scribes mentioned in the gospel, who often like to be greeted obsequiously; always craving for top positions of honour, and exploiting the vulnerable widows in the society. This is evident in our contemporary society, where many fake pastors who sanctimoniously claim to be prayer warriors, defraud their congregations especially the poor among them. According to Jesus, any external piety without a proper internal disposition of heart, is hypocritical, and thus condemnable.
Also, the SECOND READING juxtaposes between the sacrifices made by the High priests of the old order and that which was made by Jesus Christ, the true High Priest. The former, which was the Levitical sacrifices designed to purify the means of earthly worship, that is, physical tabernacle, used the blood of animals from the abundance of many animals to offer sacrifices annually. However, the latter is superior over the former, not like the earthly sanctuary, but God’s own heavenly sanctuary.
So, Christ’s sacrificial offering brought about the cosmic redemption that purified the whole universe, seen and unseen. He did not use any earthly victim or from any of His abundance like the High priests of the old order, who used the blood of animals to offer sacrifices, but He used everything He had; His own body and blood. Thus, Christ made a Kenotic sacrifice (self-emptying) of Himself, once and for all in order to save humanity.
Finally, God has done a great thing for us. Due to the love He has for us, He offered his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ as a sacrifice in order to save us. So, the type of offering He demands from us is a kenotic sacrifice, which comes from the heart willingly. Just like Abraham, who wholeheartedly demonstrated his love for God when he wanted to sacrifice his son, Isaac at God’s command (Genesis 22), same goes to Abel’s sacrificial offerings to God (Genesis 4). Therefore, whatever we do, if it does not stem from love, and with the sole aim of salvaging others, then we shall not get any reward, even if we pull the crowd to applaud us.
Conclusively, today’s readings enjoin us to be mindful of the followings:
- Christian charity demands that we deny ourselves some of our basic needs so as to enrich the poor, not only when we have abundant resources, but also when we have only the bare essentials for ourselves; while relying on divine providence.
- Since out of love, Christ sacrificed His life for our sake, then we too should always be ready to risk or sacrifice our lives in order to save others. For thus says the Lord: “Greater Love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).”
- We should not always seek for what we can gain from others, rather what we can give. However, our generosity should be done willingly and cheerfully in order to attract God’s reward, for God loves a cheerful giver, and givers never lack.
- We should always see our position as a privilege to render selfless services to all. Instead of using it to compound people’s problems, we should rather use it to alleviate their poor conditions.
- We should strive to be honest, sincere, and faithful in our dealings with others, knowing fully well that, Christ is always watching our hearts daily, to know the motives behind our conducts.
Therefore, I pray that the Almighty God, through the Power of the Holy Spirit, may grant you the spirit of generosity, sacrifice and selflessness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.