Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and The Poor Widow

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You may have heard that Mark Zuckerberg is giving away 99% of everything that he makes with Facebook. Do you know how much that is?

Forty-five billion dollars to charity. Bill Gates (who has actually outdone him) has given away 90 billion dollars over his lifetime.Yet, we hear the story of this poor widow whose meager offering means more than the large offerings of the wealthy.

There is a story that has been told since the time of the great depression. The government was traveling near the Appalachians and surveying some of the people. They were asking them questions.

“If we would give you five-hundred dollars, what would you do with that money? How would you help yourself?” They asked this of a woman who was living in a tiny shack.

She was a widow. She was living in a shack with holes in the ceiling and floor, and they said to her, “What would you do if we could give you five-hundred dollars?” She said, “Well, I reckon I would give it to the poor.”

It is all about perspective. Isn’t it?

I think the important thing is that we realize that we are all called in some way to give charitably. We are all actually called to give, as Mother Teresa said, not from our surplus – but to give from our poverty. She would say to give until it hurts.

What that means is to give in such a way that it is going to impact us. Not just giving away from our surplus. We hear in the first reading in the book of Kings how the prophet Elijah came to this widow. She is already desperate because all she has left for her and her son is a little bit of oil in her jug and a handful of flower.

It is so bad, in fact, that she is going out to gather some food knowing that when she comes back in her son and she are going to eat, and then, they are going to die because that is all the food they have. They are at rock bottom. Yet, the prophet Elijah comes through and asks them to bake him a cake and give him a drink of water before they go off.

What does the widow do? She bakes him a cake and gives him a drink of water. The amazing thing is that God provides for her for the whole next year of her life. God provides food for her and her son.

We hear in the Gospel, too, about the widow whom Jesus observes. He tells the story about the rich people who are putting in large sums of money, and then, this widow who has nothing puts in her two cents. The poor widow puts in more than all the other contributors.

Jesus looks at her and says, “She has given more, and her giving will mean more because she has given of her whole livelihood.” We are all called to this.

The Gospel values our poverty, chastity and obedience. We are all called to poverty, chastity and obedience.

I would like to just focus on the poverty that we are called to. Poverty, at least for me, is a terrifying concept. Right now, I am discerning consecrated life. At the end, if I discern to go forward, I am going to vow poverty, chastity and obedience. The brothers that are with us today vow poverty, chastity and obedience.

For me, I think it is terrifying because if I do not have anything, I am afraid that I am going to suffer. I am afraid that this bad part of me might come out. This part that gets angry when he does not have food or gets sad when he gets cold. I am afraid of these things that might come out.

Yet, it is right there in the moment of poverty that God needs us. That is right when the prophet Elijah came to the widow – when she was at the brink of poverty. I really hope that someday in my life I will be like Saint Francis. I can give everything that I have to the poor, and I will give it all away.

I hope that someday in our lives we all come to that point of true poverty because it is in that poverty that God needs us.

I want you to think about that today – especially the students. A lot of times we think that once we have a job or once we do not have any college loans we will start giving.

Your giving now matters so much to God, and I think for all of us it is just as important to remember that we fit somewhere in this giving.

We are not Mark Zuckerberg – probably. (If you are, let me know.) We are also not the poor widow, but we do fit somewhere in this.

That is why it is so important for us to discern the path of poverty for ourselves. Today, just reflect on that. How is God calling you to give not only of your surplus but actually out of poverty. To give until it hurts. Each one of us is really called to give.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, let’s remember this. At every mass the offertory is collected and the whole idea with that is that we are really offering ourselves. It is a symbolic gesture that we are offering everything that we have to God.

You give your whole self to him, trusting that ultimately he will provide for us. The way that God usually works is that when we are completely broken, when we are completely impoverished, when we are completely poor, he does need us.

Let us offer anything that we can to our God today and trust that He will provide.

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.