As the Jubilee Year of Mercy approaches, we are called to a generosity that underlies the mercy that reaches beyond strict justice. A generous heart, formed in God’s graciousness, cannot deny mercy.
As sinners our generosity is frequently flawed with self-interest. We can give in order to impress or in the hope of receiving. The Prophet Elijah’s encounter with the poor widow of Zarephath invites us to consider the true meaning of generosity and trust. At a time of severe famine Elijah had been sent by his Lord to a foreign town and directed to the widow’s door. The Lord had instructed him, as an outsider, to entrust himself to a penniless stranger.
Elijah trusted in his Lord and, from the widow’s poverty, was blessed with the graciousness of God. The widow had nothing: no more than the making of a final meal to be shared with her son as they faced starvation. The little she had was shared with a stranger, and was rewarded with the prophet’s promise. “Jar of meal shall not be spent, jug of oil shall not be emptied, before the day when the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.”
This simple tale illustrates a truth that frequently escapes us. We entrust ourselves to the Lord, and indeed to each other, from our poverty rather than from anything we might claim to possess. The stranger entrusted himself to the generosity of a foreign widow. From her poverty, she responded to his need. The trust of this shared need became the vehicle of God’s graciousness. Let us pray that the simplicity of this encounter might inform our own response to the refugee crisis.
In the Gospel passage Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the scribes. All that they did was motivated by self-interest. Their outward piety was a stratagem to win position and influence. Today some might describe their approach as “enlightened self-interest”. It is clear from the Gospel that a generosity formed in the likeness of God’s grace can have nothing in common with self-interest, enlightened or otherwise. Observing the widow who had made her treasured contribution without considering her own needs, Jesus questioned a world whose generosity is limited by self. “I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.”
As we approach the Year of Mercy, let us pray for a generosity that entrusts its poverty to the Lord.
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (06/11/15)
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