Sunday, 11 November 2012
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
Today England keeps Remembrance Sunday when we remember all those who gave their lives in the wars of the past century. The readings we have at Mass today are those chosen by the universal Church on its three-year cycle and are not intended to correspond to Remembrance Sunday. That said, I would like to make at least one connection between the value of the sacrifice of the widow, and that of lives laid down in war. Because in both cases the value of what is laid down might sometimes seem to be something lost, and yet, the words of Jesus remind us that the true value of something lies in God's eyes and not merely in our own.
The widow, as we just heard in that account, had very little money, very little to offer to the God, just two small coins, "the equivalent of just a penny"(Mk 12:42). In the eyes of most of those who saw her what she gave may have seemed not worth bothering about. This, however, is not what the Lord Jesus said about her offering. He said it was worth more than all the other offerings that had been made, "she has put in more than all the other offerings”(12:43), because she was giving all she had to live on, whereas the others were giving merely out of their abundance.
Now, if we consider what the Lord meant here, He clearly was not saying that her penny would buy more gold for the Temple, or more animals to be sacrificed. No, obviously, at a material level her offering would not be more than the other offerings made. Rather, He was speaking about the true value of these things, namely, the value they have in the sight of God.
For ourselves, it can often happen that we have something to do that seems small and not worthwhile. Maybe we offer someone some help, and they are not appreciative. Or maybe we have to wash a child's socks, and, of course, he never thanks you for it.
Or maybe, in a different way, your deed is small because you are not able to do as much as you would like. Maybe you are not physically strong and fit enough to help as you would like, or as you used to when you were younger, and you can only do something that seems small and hardly worth bothering to do. Or, maybe you'd like to give a big sum of money to help a charity, but you only have a small amount to offer, and it seems like it’s not worth doing.
In these, or many other things we do, the question raised by the Lord's description of the value of the widow's mite, is, WHAT is it that truly gives value to what we do?
We can answer this question in two parts,
First, the value lies in how GOD, the author of all things, the value lies in how HE values them.
Second, we can go further and actually be bold enough to say that we can know HOW and WHY He values things. Namely, He who tells us that He is love itself, He values things by the LOVE with which we do them. St Thomas Aquinas teaches this point at the theological level, in specifying that the level of MERIT that God assigns to our actions varies, and it varies according to how we love.
If I do a great deed, but with little love, then it has little value in God's eyes.
If I do a little deed, but with great love, then it has great value in God's eyes.
What this calls for, in a way of CHANGING our actions, is this: it calls for us to constantly seek to purify and correct our intentions, so that we do the same deeds but with a greater inner attitude of love, offering them in love, offering them to God, doing them for sake of someone else, not for the sake of how they will benefit us. This is something easy to say, but is a great task to make into a habitual practice, a practice that inwards transforms how we do everything, how we do the same deeds that we do anyway
And that, not the outward physical level of our deeds, that, like the small widow's mite that was worth more than all the other Temple offerings, that is what gives value to our deeds and to our lives.