One of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history occurred in Alaska in 1964 on the afternoon of Good Friday. Almost 140 people were killed during the 9.2 magnitude quake, and the city of Anchorage was particularly devastated. Afterwards, during the cleanup and rebuilding process, many people wrote to the governor of Alaska for help; they described how they were suffering, and demanded the state take responsibility for their well-being. When the governor later went on TV, he described these many demands for assistance, but said he wanted to read one letter in particular. It was from a small boy who had taped two nickels to a 3 x 5 card, and printed the words, “Use this wherever it is needed; if you need more, let me know” (King Duncan, Lively Illustrations for Effective Preaching, p. 187). Even though the earthquake had caused $311 million in property damage (equivalent to over $2.2 billion in today’s dollars), and even though the boy contributed only ten cents, he actually accomplished far more than all those persons who complained about their suffering and demanded the state take care of them. God didn’t put us on this earth merely to be takers, but also to be givers, and every genuine sacrifice in His Name—no matter how small—pleases Him and helps prepare us for eternal life.
There are a number of persons in Heaven I’m looking forward to meeting in eternity, and two of them are mentioned in the readings for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: the widow encountered by Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 17:10-16) and the widow praised by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (12:38-44). Each of them gives us a wonderful example of generosity and faith, and each of them now surely experiences heavenly riches and glory. The first of these women certainly must have wondered if Elijah’s promise could be trusted—but she did as he directed, and this allowed her, her son, and Elijah himself to be fed for a year in a miraculous manner. The widow in the Gospel demonstrates an even deeper faith, for—unlike the first woman—she didn’t have anyone telling her what to do and reassuring her everything would be all right; she somehow knew on her own that God would be pleased by her generosity and that in some way He would take care of her. I’ll be very interested to hear from her first-hand exactly what happened after that; perhaps she’ll even say the apostles later made a point of seeking her out and inviting her to join the early Christian community, and that she did so and as a result experienced great spiritual freedom and peace.
God always blesses and cares for those who trust in Him. As the Letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28) reminds us, Christ will appear at the end of time “to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him,” and this gift will result in heavenly rewards and everlasting joy. Even here and now on earth, however, our acts of faith and our holy sacrifices and offerings win us God’s favor and allow His grace to be at work in our lives in a powerful way. God is never outdone in generosity—and the two different widows praised in these readings would surely testify to the truth of this statement.
There was once a pastor who was very concerned by the indifference of most of his parishioners, and by their unwillingness to volunteer in any manner or take responsibility for any of the many things that needed to be done to keep the parish vibrant and healthy. Deciding that drastic measures were needed, he announced one weekend that the parish was dead, and that the following Sunday there would be a funeral. People were puzzled and curious, and because word got around, more people than usual came to church the next weekend—where they discovered a casket up front, with the lid raised. The pastor invited everyone to come up and view the remains. As people did so, they found a mirror inside the casket, and saw themselves; because of their laziness and indifference, they were the ones who were killing the parish and who were themselves spiritually dead (Jack McArdle, 150 Stories for Preachers and Teachers, #70).
It’s very easy to convince ourselves that we don’t have the time or energy to become more active and involved in the life of our parish, or that we lack the knowledge or ability to contribute anything needed or worthwhile—but this attitude overlooks the example of the two widows praised in today’s readings. They didn’t let their poverty keep them from responding generously, and so the Lord was able to multiply their tiny offerings and bring about a wondrous result. The same can be true for each of us; our willingness to get involved, to volunteer in one or more areas, and to say in effect, “Here I am, Lord; send me,” can make a difference; it can result in unexpected blessings for our parish and for ourselves, even as it glorifies God’s Name and helps prepare us to be judged by Him one day. The Lord will provide whatever is needed to serve Him; all that’s necessary on our part is a willingness to say “yes” in a spirit of trust. We can choose to be like the Alaska earthquake survivors who thought only of their own needs, or to be like the boy who freely contributed the little bit he had, and offered to donate even more. I suspect we’ll one day be able to meet him in Heaven, too—and happy will we be if we’re able to share stories of our own generosity.