THE POOR WIDOW AND THE IDEAL OF A LIFE OF EVANGELICAL POVERTY
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Last Week of the Year, November 23, 2015
Dan. 1:1-6, 8-20, Dan. 3, Luke 21:1-4
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, ‘truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had'" (Luke 21:1-4).
This poor widow has devoted herself totally to the Lord. She has lost everything of this world that most people consider makes life enjoyable, worthwhile, and worth living. She lives in poverty and can only contribute a penny (Mark 12:42), and Jesus says that she has put in everything that she has. She has no money left to buy for herself the pleasures that most people live for. She is old. She has no husband. She cannot afford rich food or other pleasures or entertainments. God is her only treasure, the only source of her joy in life.
But in a deeper and truer sense, she has everything, and she is better off than the wealthy with all their rich food and worldly pleasures. She can love God with an undivided heart, not divided by empty worldly pleasures that only divide their hearts from a pure love of God. That is why Jesus blesses the poor, and warns the rich. "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God ... But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:20, 24).
What a sad thing it will be to hear this, that the rich who live a life of worldly pleasure have already received their consolation. Instead of receiving consolation from God, both in this life and the next, they have only received earthly consolations, which are far inferior to God's consolations. How much better it is to sacrifice worldly consolations in order to receive God's consolations! How much better it is to renounce a worldly life and lifestyle with all its worldly consolations, and rather receive heavenly joys, even in this present life! And this renunciation is necessary to receive heavenly consolations, because earthly consolations divide our heart, preventing us from having an undivided heart in our love for God. A divided heart makes us insensitive and unable to receive and experience God's heavenly consolations.
It is the anawim, the poor of the Lord, those who have lost everything of this world and look only to God for their joy and happiness in life, who are truly consoled by him. These are the ones blessed by Jesus; not those who live in worldly pleasures that divide their hearts and make them distant from God and unable to experience his peace and joy.
So in many ways this poor widow, who can only contribute a penny, which is "all the living that she had" (Luke 21:4), is a model for us. We too are to renounce rich food, as Daniel did in the first reading, and eat simply, living a simple life, living in evangelical poverty for the love of God, so that the rich food and distracting pleasures of this world do not deprive us of divine consolation both now and hereafter. We too ought to be the anawim, the poor of the Lord, who find our delight only in the Lord. How much greater will be our delight if we find it only in the Lord, and not also in worldly pleasures and rich food that divide our heart and deprive us of having an undivided and truly sensitive and receptive heart in our love for God.
What then should we do with our money if we are going to live a simple life of evangelical poverty and focus ourselves only on God? We should use it like this poor widow who contributed more than all the rest, because she "put in all the living that she had" (Luke 21:4). Instead of using our money to improve our lifestyle, we should use it to give more to those in need, or use it to proclaim the gospel unto the ends of the earth and to ever more people. One Christian put it this way, "God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving" (Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, p. 71).
St. Paul says, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them ... he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal ... Contribute to the needs of the saints" (Rom. 12:6, 8, 13). Like this poor widow, we should be generous. God did not entrust us with money to harm our spirit with it by using it for our own worldly pleasures. This is a misuse of money, not a Christian use of it.
If I have more money now that I formally did, that does not mean that I should now have more worldly pleasures and richer, more sumptuous food, but that I should be more generous to others in need than I previously was able to be. It means that I should promote the preaching of the gospel more than I previously had the means to do. This is the proper use of money. In this way my money will help rather than harm my spirit.
One with more money now than he formally had should continue to live just as simply and plainly as he formally did and perhaps should try to live even more simply and eat even plainer, less fancy, less adorned, less sumptuous food than he previously did, and then use his excess money for the mission of the Church. This is using your unneeded money properly, in a way that will bring you blessings, not warnings and curses from the Lord.
St. Paul says, "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully ... For God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:6, 7). The reaping bountifully is the spiritual blessings that God will give to those who choose to live simply and use their money not to raise their own standard of living but to raise their standard of giving. Our excess money should be used for the Lord, not for our own worldly pleasures and fine dining. "You will be enriched in every way for great generosity" (2 Cor. 9:11). "Your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want" (2 Cor. 8:14).
Basically, our excess money, beyond what we need to live a plain, simple life that renounces worldly pleasures should be used in the service of the Lord, for "whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).
The way to obtain the buried treasure, which is the kingdom, is to renounce all that we have beyond what we need to live a plain and simple life. Only by selling all that we have will we be able to get enough money to buy the field containing the treasure (Matt. 13:44). In other words, we have to divest ourselves to obtain the treasure, the kingdom of God.
The opposite of this is trying to save our life in a worldly way that will cause us to lose our life before God by dividing our heart. What we should rather do is lose our life for the sake of Christ and the gospel, for in this way we will save our life before God (Mark 8:35).
In all this, the poor widow who lives in great simplicity and evangelical poverty and gives all that she has to the Lord is our model and inspiration for the way that we as followers of Christ should live and use our money.
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