Once it so happened that two worn out currency bills of a hundred dollar and a one dollar met each other at the end of their tenure. They shared among themselves the places they happened to go. Hundred dollar bill very proudly said, “Soon after was I printed, I went into the hands of the richest man, then into the hands of CEO of Google. From his hands, I went to the hands of a chief of CIA, from whose hands I went to a five star hotel. By then I was soiled and I am here.” The one dollar bill said, “As soon as I was printed, I was placed in the offertory box of immaculate conception shrine. From there, I went to Episcopalian church. Then I happened to reach a poor person who put me in a dilapidated church in a remote village. I was there for quite sometime. By the time, I was dirty and I am here.” The hundred dollar bill asked, “All the time you were mentioning ‘Church’. What is it? I have never heard about it.”
This anecdote points out how people, in general, are stingy when it comes to give to the causes of religion. In general, when it comes to the matter of God, we are more interested in receiving than giving. Today’s readings invite us to be the persons of selfless giving. The first reading talks about the generous giving of the widow of Zarephath. Even though she knew that death, caused by hunger, was imminent, yet she dared to share with Elijah the meager amount of flour she had. It shows, how in the midst of utter poverty, she upheld the love of others. The gospel speaks of the contribution of a widow – the contribution which manifested her total and complete dependence on God. It shows, how in the midst of utter poverty, she upheld the love of God. And in the second reading, the author of the book of Hebrews talks about the total self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It shows, how in the midst of excruciating pain on the cross, he upheld the love of God and of others.
In the Bible, the words ‘giving,’ ‘offering’ and ‘sacrifice’ etc., denote surrender. When it is said that the widow gave whatever she had, it simply means that she totally surrendered herself unto God. Here we need to understand that giving or surrendering ourselves unto God is not going to increase anything on the part of God. God is never less by our non-giving. Nor is he anything more by our giving. Instead surrender is very much necessary for us, the human. Surrender helps us in two ways. Firstly, it helps us reduce our suffering, and secondly it begets God’s blessing.
a). Surrender & Suffering:
Most of our sufferings have their roots in attachment. Buddha said, “Attachment is the root cause of all sufferings.” (Quite often we erroneously say that desire is the root cause of suffering. Buddha, in Pali language, used the word tanha, whose right translation is attachment/aversion, and not desire.) When a person is attached to something, one begins to say, “This belongs to me” or “That belongs to me.” Whenever something unwanted takes place in the thing/person to which one is attached, naturally it affects the person too. The more a person is attached, the more sorrowful one is. In surrender, we tell God that everything belongs to Him and nothing belongs to us. Surrender is nothing but detachement. When this spirit of detachment prevails in a person, one will not be affected by what happens outside of oneself. In other words, one begins to be equanimous and the level of suffering will go down drastically.
There was a king who spent sleepless nights because of various problems in his kingdom. A well-known intelligent sage once came to meet the king. The king told the sage of his problem and said, “I would be happy to give up the kingdom to any capable person and retire into an unknown place in order to regain my happiness.” The sage said, “Why don’t you give it to your son?” “Well! he is too young!” was the answer. “Why don’t you give it to your wife?” the sage asked. “Well! She is like me. She too would suffer” came the answer. Then the sage asked, “If that is the case, Why don’t you give it to me?” The king happily accepted the proposal since he knew the caliber of that sage. Then the sage asked, “Now you are not the king. Where do you want to go?” He said, “I don’t have any specific plan.” The sage said, “If so, why don’t you do the job which you know already. You just be my servant and rule the kingdom. Don’t worry about the problems and the troubles. Just give your best in ruling the kingdom. The rest I will take care.” The king accepted it. He ruled the kingdom without worrying about the results. He just did everything to the best of his abilities. The results were remarkable. The kingdom improved a lot and at the same time the king never lost his sleep.
This is the power of surrender. When a person thinks that s/he is the master of everything, all the vagaries of life begin to affect one and it leads to anxiety and restlessness. Instead, when a person surrenders oneself into the hands of God and does one’s best, life turns out for the best.
b). Surrender & God’s Blessings:
The second important thing that we need to understand while we speak about surrender is that surrender can beget the choicest blessings of God. When a person surrenders oneself into God’s hand, it can be said that the person is creating space for God. Contrastingly, when a person is full of oneself, then there is no place for God in one’s life. Through surrender, when a person creates space for God in oneself, then naturally God fills that person with choicest blessings and graces. This is what we see in the case of the widow of Zarephath. By giving she received more. The well-known words of St. Francis of Assisi are: ‘In giving we receive.’
Creating space for God in our lives involves a continuous self-emptying and self-giving. Quite often we are full of ourselves – our desires, our egoism, our pride, our attachments etc. When we are full of ourselves, we keep God out of our lives. It is only when we develop the courage and guts to throw away the ego with all its various manifestations, it can be said that we create space for God in our lives.
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Fr. Falaniko Atonio is the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows.