Libby Caes’ Homily from November 8, 2015

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies 1 Comment

November 8, 2015

I Kings 17: 8-16; Mark 12:38-44

Ah, the widow’s mite!

I suspect this story triggers all sorts of reactions.

Because this widow has given all at great cost to herself,  I am left feeling guilty because my life and gifts have not been as sacrificial as hers.

Do any of you share this feeling?

In my past life I worked in the nonprofit sector.

At least in evangelical circles, the teeny, tiny gifts, the widow’s mite, are extolled as being the most virtuous one. But, let’s be real, aren’t the bigger gifts what allow non-profits to survive and thrive??

Let’s look at the text again. I am going to boil it down to a few phrases…. I guess you could call it the editorial prerogative of the homilist!

Beware of the scribes….They devour widows’ houses….

A poor widow came and put into the treasury two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

The scribes are supposed to be managing the widows’ estates, making sure that the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

Torah commands that God’s people execute justice for the orphan and the widow. (Deut.10)

In reality the temple should be giving to the widow, not the widow to the temple.

Instead, the scribes, as representative of the religious establishment, have squeezed everything out of the widows, serving the needs of the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

So much for seeking the common good

Trust has been abused.

            Funds have been diverted to the upkeep of the temple.

Pious actions become a cover for injustice.

I suspect those scribes paid close attention to the giving patterns of everyone.

It is institutional injustice!

Sound familiar??

            Of course it does. There is nothing new under the sun.

            The rich and powerful living off of the poor.

With this in mind, imagine the sorrow and despair in the voice of Jesus. Certainly, he knew what was going on. He is an astute observer:

            Truly, truly I tell you,

This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

The widow, as are too many in today’s world, is trapped in an unjust system.

But, still, and in spite of this reality, she is able to give out of the abundance of her heart. She trusts God. She knows what it is to be completely dependent on the grace and care of God.

Her giving is not done for show. It is worship that is pleasing in the sight of the Holy One.

From a human point of view it appears that there is a high cost to the widow’s generosity.

Won’t she become even more destitute because she has given all that she has to live on?

With the eyes of faith, we see that the widow has discovered that the generosity and abundance of God is not limited.

It is not the widow’s mite, M I T E;

It is the widow’s might, M I G H T;

her giving is powerful. It is subversive.

The Magnificat comes to mind:

The Holy One has put down the mighty from their seat  and has exalted the humble and meek.

The Holy One has filled the hungry with good things and the rich have been sent empty away.


If the story of one widow isn’t enough, we also have the story of the widow of Zarephath.

Elijah is at Zarephath at God’s command. He is told that a widow there will care for him.

The Near Eastern custom at the time is that the stranger asks for hospitality.

This was also the practice of the early monasteries. Travelers  asked for and received hospitality at monasteries. Their survival depended on monastic hospitality. There were no other safe places to stay.

The story of Elijah and the widow is one of life and death.

There is a famine in the land, resources are limited.

Elijah asks for water and something to eat.

If the widow doesn’t care for Elijah, who will? She has very little. She is preparing to consume what little she has left and then she expects to die.

The widow is not unwilling to care for Elijah but she is honest about her limited resources.

Elijah tells her, “don’t be afraid, go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake.”

 The widow does as Elijah tells her.

 There is enough. There continues to be enough for all of them.

Again, abundant generosity.

Resources expand when they are given up freely to God, when we surrender ourselves to grace.

Giving and receiving. Receiving and giving.

            Freely, without strings attached, open hands and open hearts.

Our rational Western minds and our worship of self-sufficiency and independence make it almost impossible for us to understand this divine exchange.

It must be grasped with the eyes of our heart.

The Holy One is generous beyond belief, freely giving of oneself in the creation of the world and all that is in it.

Our opening hymn expresses this so well:

God whose giving knows no ending, from your rich and endless store…

Today’s Psalm, Psalm 147, is an echo:

            God covers the heavens with clouds,

                        Prepares rain for the earth and

                        Makes grass grow on the hills.

            God gives to the animals their food,

                        And to the young ravens when they cry.

            But God takes pleasure in those who fear God,

                        and hope in God’s steadfast love.

The invitation is to trust God fully and then share generously from the depths of our hearts.

When we share with in this way, our generosity taps into the energy of the universe and the wisdom of God. In the process  our deepest need will be provided for.(Bruce Epperly, Patheos, 2010).

Generosity begats generosity.

The spiritual world we live in is one of abundance and generosity, there is more than enough.

      We receive and we give. We give and we receive.

Let’s look at today’s Holiday Fair through this lens.

            I will speak from my own experience.

For the past five years we have been invited to make donations to the holiday fair.

The first few years I had plenty to unload…jewelry from my grandmother that was cluttering my jewelry box. Bowls that I never used.

Then for a year or two my attitude was that I had cleaned out everything I had to give. But somehow I managed to find a few things to unload. After all, I needed to do my part.

Ah, the power of guilt!!

This year I discovered in the storage areas of our home things that Dave and I have made that we have not touched for years and probably never will.  We have kept them because they are personal, we put our creative energy into them.

Then I realized they are serving no useful purpose sitting in the closet or basement. Ok, it is time to let them go.

Then I discovered I no longer wanted these crafted items. I wanted someone else to take delight in them. And, it was good to realize that in relinquishing them, the community of Holy Wisdom would benefit.

Again, giving and receiving. Receiving and giving on so many levels with so many of us taking part.

There’s been baking, pricing, there will be staffed tables, shared tea and shared story telling. Laughter and new friends made.

Abundance indeed!

I close with an NPR story from this past September:

It is about the former prime minister of Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsany who now leads the opposition in Parliament.

While the Hungarian government has been hostile toward the thousands of migrants trying to cross the country, citizens like this man have come forth to help them.

Gyurcsany says that his house, in a leafy, upscale neighborhood of Budapest, is big enough to share.

He and his wife, Klara, have been welcoming migrants into their home to spend what he calls “one normal night.”


The contrast couldn’t be starker than between the country’s current prime minister,  who wants to treat migrants as criminals — and Gyurcsany who said:

“It grabs a couple of hours from our life, but what’s that compared to the fate of these people. It’s nothing.”

Gyurcsany and his wife, who have five children, moved their 6-month-old baby into their own bedroom to offer more space for migrant families. They’re working with a charity group that helps identify particularly exhausted migrants to host.

On the morning of the interview, a family from Syria and two young Syrian men traveling are their guests.

Klara served them coffee on a back porch that looks onto a lush lawn. Thirty-eight-year-old Almoen, who fears giving his last name, fled Syria with his wife and three children. He says the journey was harrowing, and the family was exhausted and filthy after being in three different Hungarian camps.

As he sits and drinks his coffee, Almoen looks around in disbelief. “Everything was so bad. And here everybody is good. So nice. People smile. It’s so different here. I am happy,” he says.

One of Almoen’s little boys plays with the cat and dog. Klara believes the most important thing she and her husband do is simply to treat people like human beings.

“Sometimes I have the feeling that it’s not only the food or the possibility to use the bathroom or wash their hair,” says Klara. “But it’s the gesture itself, because these people have received so few human gestures in the past few months.”

The sounds of Hungarian, Arabic and English float across the table as the group sits down to a hearty breakfast. The lentils are a big hit. And Gyurcsany pushes his guests to try Hungarian pastries.

Hungary is cracking down on migrants and those who assist them, by making entering the country illegally a criminal offense. Gyurcsany says his own family held a meeting to discuss whether they would continue bringing migrants into their home in the worsening climate.

Their decision was unanimous.

“There is a rule of life, and there is a rule of the government of Hungary. And if these two rules are conflicting,” he says, “we have to choose the rule of life.”

 “We have to choose life.”

As we chose the rule of life, we tap into the overflowing generosity of our God. Our world is a better place and there is hope.

And, in the words of our opening hymn,

            Lend your joy to all our giving, let it light our pilgrim’s way

            From the night of anxious keeping, loose us into generous day.



“Two widows as role models”, William Dyrness, Christian Century, 1994



Comments 1

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. I just started working with serving breakfast and lunch to Refugees
    that come through our Center on their way from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala primarily.
    They are such wonderful and beautiful people and we have a place for them to shower and give them
    clean clothes. They are so grateful but I keep wondering how we can be more just and fair in giving
    them more of what they need. Peace to you.

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