“To give from one's poverty”: a missionary criterion

1Kings  17:10-16
Psalm  145
Hebrews  9:24-28
Mark  12:38-44





In the jungles of Brazil, a missionary once asked a Yanomami Indio: “Who is good?” To which the Indio replied: “The one who shares is good”. A reply that is in tune with the Gospel of Jesus! The two women, both poor widows, both skilled in the art of surviving, protagonists of the biblical and missionary message, bear witness to today’s Readings.

In an area inhabited by pagans in northern Palestine, the widow of Zarephath (1st. Reading), despite the scarcity of food caused by the drought, is willing to share her bread and water with the prophet Elijah, who is fleeing from the persecution of King Achab and Queen Jezabel. The widow has reached the very end of her resources (v. 12), but trusts in the word of the man of God, and God sees to it that the bare necessities are there for her, her son and other relatives (v. 15-16). Despite the wickedness of the royal couple, God’s protection is exercised for his messenger (Elijah) and for the poor.

The scene is similar in the open area of the Temple in Jerusalem, the official place of cult, where Mark (Gospel) gives us two contrasting scenes. On the one hand, the scribes and those versed in the Law, full of vanity and ostentation (they wear expensive garments, like to be greeted obsequiously in public, sit in the places of honour), and have the presumption to try to manipulate God with lengthy prayers, while they sink so low as to swallow the property of widows (v. 40). On the other side, Jesus calls attention to the shy, secretive gesture of the poor widow who, avoiding all show, throws two small coins into the treasury, “all that she had to live on.” (v. 44). They were two coins of immense worth! She does not give a large amount, like the rich, but she gives all, everything; the Greek text says: 'her whole life'.

The self-seeking and the free giving are brought face to face. The scribes manifest a religious practice that seeks personal profit: even when they perform good works they are seeking their own interests; they are victims of the culture of ostentation. On the other hand, Jesus extols the spontaneity, humility and detachment of the widow: she trusts in God, and so abandons herself to Him. Once again we come across the radical teaching in Mark's Gospel that we considered on recent Sundays: the true disciple of Jesus sells everything, distributes the proceeds among the poor, offers his life, as the Master did, for the redemption of everyone (2nd Reading, v. 26), loves God and neighbour with his whole heart. For the widow, this twofold love is more important than her own survival. (*)

For the Kingdom of God, to give much or little is not important; what counts is to give everything. Pope St. Gregory the Great affirmed: “The Kingdom of God is without price; it is worth everything that we possess!” Two small coins are enough, or the giving of a glass of cool water (Mt.10:42). The gift offered out of one's poverty is an expression of faith, of love and of mission.

This is what the Bishops of the Latin American Churches declared in the Conference of Puebla (Mexico, 1979) when speaking about the commitment to the universal mission: “The hour has come, finally, for Latin America, to... launch itself beyond its own frontiers, ad gentes. It is true that we ourselves need missionaries, but we must give of our own poverty” (Puebla n. 368). The commitment to mission, both within and outside one's own country, is concrete and demanding: both material and spiritual means are needed, but above all, people who are ready to go, and to offer their lives for the Kingdom of God!

The poor woman of Zarephath and the widow of today’s Gospel suggest anew the challenges of a mission lived through choices of poverty and by using poor means, based on the power of the Word, free from any conditioning authority, being among the least of the earth, in situations of frailty, in weakness, isolation, antagonism… both personal and of the collaborators. Paul, Xavier, Comboni, Teresa of Calcutta and many other missionaries lived their vocation under the banner of the Cross, facing hardships, obstacles and misunderstanding, in the firm belief that “the works of God are born and grow at the foot of Calvary” (Daniel Comboni). The missionary places at the centre of his life the crucified, risen and living Lord, because he believes that the power of Christ and of the Gospel is revealed in the weakness of the apostle and precariousness of human means (cf. Paul). In situations of poverty, abandonment and death, the missionary discovers in the crucified Christ the effective presence of the God of Life and a multitude of brothers and sisters to be loved and valued, bringing them the Gospel, message of life and hope.

The Pope's words

(*)  «Faithful to this summons from the Lord, the Christian community will never fail, then, to assure the entire human family of her support through gestures of creative solidarity, not only by “giving from one's surplus”, but above all by a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies”. I extend to every disciple of Christ and to every person of good will a warm invitation to expand their hearts to meet the needs of the poor and to take whatever practical steps are possible in order to help them. The truth of the axiom cannot be refuted: “to fight poverty is to build peace.”».

Benedict XVI
Message for World Day of Peace 2009, n. 15

In the steps of Missionaries

- 8/11: (II Sunday of November or on another date): “Thanksgiving Day” to God for the fruits of the earth. – Day of Creation.

- 9/11: Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, cathedral of the Pope, as bishop of Rome: mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world”.

- 9/11: Anniversary of the fall of the “Wall of Berlin” (1989), a symbolic event for new relations among peoples.

- 10/11: St. Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church (+461), saved Rome and Italy from the invasions of the Huns and Vandals.

- 11/11: St. Martin of Tours (+397), founder of monasteries and evangeliser of rural France, known for his miracles; he was the first non-martyr saint venerated in the Latin Church.

- 11/11: Bl. Vincent Eugene Bossilkov (Bulgaria, 1900-1952), a Passionist religious and bishop of Nicopolis, executed by a firing squad in the grounds of Sofia’s prison for his staunch communion with the Church of Rome. Two days later (13/11) three more Augustinian priests of the Assumption were martyred in Sofia’s prison.

- 12/11: St. Josaphat Kuncewicz (1580-1623), bishop of Vitebsk and of Polock in Poland-Bielorussia, the first martyr of the union of the Greco-Russians with the Catholic Church.



Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, MCCJ
Website:  www.euntes.net  “The Word for Mission”