Growing up in West County, shopping malls were not a very uncommon thing. We had Chesterfield Mall and West County Mall within a pretty close distance. And if you drove a little bit further, you could go to the Galleria. So moving here and finding myself across the street from Mid Rivers Mall was not entirely strange. But even though it’s so close and has so many stores and options, I absolutely dread going to the mall. Some people get really into it – they love looking at all the stores and walking all over the place, taking it in just for the fun of it. One thing that you need to know about me is that I’m a particularly impatient walker, and I’m always driven towards a goal, so meandering around a mall for fun makes absolutely no sense to me. And even worse, it drives me crazy to get caught behind those type of people. For some of us, including myself, we need a list when we go to the Mall. I like to know what I need to get and where I can get it, and then just get in, take care of business, and get the heck out of there – and then go home and bathe.
Maybe that’s the German side of me, but there are some people who are very goal oriented. Faith is often times the same way – just give me a list of what I need to do. I’ll gewt it done, check the things off the list, and BOOM. Heaven. Done. Task complete. I’d venture to say that I’m not the only one who has to stretch myself a little further in this regard. How many times do we come to Mass just because it’s something we have to get done or checked of the weekend list? How late can I arrive and still receive communion: the Gospel? The homily? The Our Father? Now for some, that’s how they were taught, and I apologize for that. But now it’s time to move on, because that’s not what God is asking of us.
I listen to a podcast each week from a guy named Mark Hart (nicknamed the Bible Geek), and he points out that this week, God tells us, “Look, here’s your list. I want you to give me all that you are, and all that you have…and then some.” It’s the “and then some” that really makes the difference – that little extra effort. That little “and then some” is what separates the folks that are just “good people” and the folks that are saints.
In the first reading from the First Book of Kings, we have this story about Elijah the prophet going to the home of this poor woman who is on her last legs – she doesn’t think she has enough food or water to survive in the extreme famine and drought that she’s experiencing. And as a prophet, Elijah makes a pretty bold statement on behalf of God, asking her for something to eat. And the woman shows extreme generosity and hospitality. She gives out of her poverty – everything that she has…and then some. She does what he says, makes him this little cake, and through her trust and generosity of heart, the promise of God is revealed to her. God responds to her faithfulness, and took care of her – her flour jar doesn’t go empty, and her water remains. God took care of her in a way that she could never have taken care of herself.
Then in the Gospel, we hear Jesus start by talking about the scribes and Pharisees, and he tells us to beware of these guys. So he goes over to the side near the money box and invites his disciples to see what happens. So these rich people with their long and elaborate prayers and their expensive tassles and their prestige come and put a tithe offering in the box, and it’s a lot of money. But then this poor widow comes and deposits a few small coins, and Jesus points out that she is putting more in the jar than anyone else. Sure, the others might have put more in monetarily. They probably put in more coins, more drachmas, but the poor widow gives more than anyone else because she is giving all that she has…and then some. There’s nothing wrong with reciting prayers, and there’s nothing bad about giving money. But we need to ask ourselves if it is for us, or for God. Do we want to be praised for every little prayer that people see us do, or every little gift that other people see us give? Do we give until it hurts? Or do we give until it hurts…and then some?
This year, Pope Benedict is challenging us to live a Year of Faith, and this is the lesson we’re trying to learn. Some people would take Jesus’ words today to the extreme of thinking that faith is what’s important and the other things like prayer and giving isn’t important. But we’re not saying that we should get rid of structured prayers like the rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet or other prayers. Real and authentic faith doesn’t mean that we get rid of these things. In fact, there are a lot of people in our parish who can easily tell us how their faith and devotion to God has grown through these sorts of prayers. What this Year of Faith is challenging us to do, however, is to take a look at what’s in our hearts as we pray, and as we come to church, and as we do things for others. The Year of Faith challenges us to see why we do these things. It challenges us to take the time and energy and devotion to pray all these prayers and to go to church, and then to give a little extra from our hearts. This Year of Faith is all about the message of today – of giving all that we have and all that we are…and then some.
That’s why we’re here in the first place. We’re following in the footsteps of one who have everything that he had and then some, and we are re-presenting that event again for us here to receive and to follow. Look at the crucifix. That’s a guy who gave us everything that he had, even to the last drops of his blood, and then some. And he did it not simply because that’s what the Father told him to do, and not simply because it was something that he had to do to check it off his list. He did it for us out of love. Now it’s our turn. Let us receive that great gift of love from Christ Jesus, and through the Eucharist, become people who give everything that we have and everything that we are…and then some.