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                   32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
                                 Mk 12:41-44

It seems as though today’s story in the Gospel is just one more scene in
Jesus’ life. But it’s really quite far from ordinary. You see, this scene of
Jesus in the Temple watching the scribes and watching the widow isn’t just
one more thing he did – it’s the last thing he chose to do in his life of public
ministry. In a real sense, this is the last impression he wants to make on his
disciples and on all who would call themselves Christian. And he chooses to
make that impression by sitting in the temple and pointing out two very
different kinds of people: People like the scribes … and people like the
widow. Now Jesus isn’t usually a people watcher – so why do you think he
did that? Why would he choose this moment to be the last scene, the final
statement, of his public ministry?

I think the reason is this: Jesus wanted to make sure that his own disciples
never fell into the same religious trap that the scribes did. You see, Jesus
knew very well how easy it is for religion to become self-focused and He did
not want it to happen to His disciples … or to us. After He had taught them
everything, He wanted to make sure that they used His teaching in the right
way, for the right kingdom, and that Christians would be people who could
sacrifice for others even as He sacrificed for us. He didn’t want Christianity
to be used as a religious show for personal prestige prestige; He wanted
Christianity to be a life of self-giving love for others. And so here He is in
the temple: watching how religious people act and pointing out the
difference between those who are interested in religion and those who are
committed to faith.

You know the difference between someone who’s interested and someone
who’s committed, don’t you? It’s kind of like this: Imagine you are sitting
down to a great big breakfast of fried eggs and ham. Well, when it comes to
that breakfast, the Chicken is interested, but the pig is committed. When
we’re interested in something, we want it to enhance our life, not take away
from our life, not alter the way we live. But when we’re committed to
something, we give a part of ourselves for the One we believe in. We’re
willing to be altered on the altar of sacrifice. Jesus saw the scribes like
people who were interested in religion and all its trappings – it was their
game, their entertainment, their source of prominence and power over
others, their business. And, too, Jesus saw people who were committed –
people who were sacrificing out of their very lives for the love of God and
neighbor -- and He wanted disciples like that. Are we interested in faith …
or are we committed to faith?

This passage about the scribes and the poor widow has always been a
challenge for me. It’s hard enough to give out of our surplus … but out of
our need? I remember well the moment in my life when I began a personal
commitment to the principles of Christian Stewardship. It was the spring of
1996 and I was attending a retreat led by Archbishop Murphy of Seattle. He
explained that because we are created in the image an likeness of God, that
we cannot be authentically human until we mirror God’s generous and
sacrificial love. He then invited all of us there to make a decision of faith to
be generous in our time, talent, and treasure. Giving of my time and talent
was fairly easy – that’s pretty much what priests do all day -- but it wasn’t
easy to make the commitment of a 10% tithe. But I decided to try it for one
year. Each time I wrote that check, I kept thinking of other things I could do
with it. But over the course of that year, something began to change within
me. I took a greater and more personal interest in being a good steward of
the Church’s resources. I paid more attention to the hardship of others. I
began to separate out what were really my wants from my needs. I gained
clear priority and I gained a real interior freedom. I also began to read the
scriptures differently and to preach differently as a result of it. I realized that
having a new car every few years was a luxury, not a need – mine is 13
years old and has 175,000 miles on it but it still runs with confidence. It’s
also ok to not to wear the most expensive clothes, or to have the largest
house, or the most expensive status symbol. It began to mean more to me
that other people were being helped and that the mission of the Gospel was
being carried out than that I had the latest toy. I’m at peace with that. I’m
happy for that. I’m even thankful for that.

The bottom line is that few things have altered my life for the better than
making that commitment. And I have kept that commitment for the past 16
years – whether in financially comfortable assignments or in financially
challenging assignments. It will be a particular challenge for me this year as
I already have a several-year commitment to fulfill and so my tithe will go
towards that commitment. However, out of integrity, I cannot ask you to
make the Parish your priority charity unless I am willing to do the same as
well. Therefore, I have made the decision to increase my personal charity to
15% until my prior commitments are fulfilled and then to return to 10%.
And that’s ok. I share that with you so that you will know where I stand and
why I invite you to make your commitment of time, talent, and treasure this

Never be afraid of sacrifice. It isn’t really a sacrifice unless what we offer
on the altar, in fact alters our life. It isn’t commitment unless we put a part
of ourselves into it. If it’s the source of our self-gain then it’s an interest; if
it’s the means of self-giving, then it’s a commitment. God will not let you
down any more than He let the widow down. The Lord is more committed
to us than we will ever be to Him. See his commitment in this Eucharist?
He invites us to be committed to one another as well. To give time when we
don’t think we have it in a busy schedule; to give a listening ear when we
probably need some consolation ourselves; to give a kind word when our
own life is burdened down; to pray for others when we are all too conscious
of our own need.

That’s sacrifice. Jesus puts His life on the altar for us and asks us to let our
lives be altered for Him.

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