Today’s readings underscore for me the power of faith and faithfulness. The widow gives her all because she has faith. Daniel refuses the king’s offerings because he is faithful to his beliefs.
The widow who makes the offering of a few small coins was giving proportionately much more of her earthly resources than were the wealthy people who also made gifts at the same time. Jesus notes this fact with approval. Given my background, I could analyze this situation in terms of disposable income, or make analogies to progressive taxation and tax burden, or perhaps even consider some philosophical theories of the hallmarks of a good society. But taking the situation at face value, here we have a woman who irrationally gave more than others, who was willing to empty her own purse for the sake of God. Her gift meant that she did not have enough for her own needs.
Why does Jesus hold up this woman as an example? Surely we should take care of our needs and those of our families. Yet Jesus indicates that she has “put in more” than the others. What message is the woman sending by her act? I think she is saying, “Take, Lord, and receive my all. I surrender myself to you. I believe that you will provide what I need. I am here ready to do your will.” The wealthy people were hedging their bets. They gave, but kept a healthy reserve. They wanted to please God, but not if it hurt them too much. They believed, but had their doubts. Jesus approved of her actions because they are consistent with His message to us. Are we more like the widow or the wealthy?
Daniel has a wonderful opportunity presented to him – study, learn, perhaps become a trusted adviser to the king. And as an immediate reward, he is offered the finest foods available, direct from the king’s own table. But to accept that food would be to deny his faith, specifically his belief in ritual purity of foods. Those wonderful foods would have been of forbidden varieties or perhaps been prepared using unacceptable methods. I find his response interesting. Daniel didn’t give up the opportunity immediately, but instead bargained with the chamberlain to try to find a compromise. He tells the official, “Let us eat the approved foods (here vegetables and water) and see how we do.” When he and his companions thrive, the official has no reason to object.
Daniel was successful in adhering to his beliefs while also meeting the secular demands of his society. We face similar challenges daily, as we live our lives in societies that increasingly are less concerned with spiritual matters and more concerned with power and control, what we have and what we can buy. Daniel “was resolved not to defile himself” by succumbing to the temptation to eat of the forbidden foods. His faithfulness to his religious beliefs was more important to him than the societal advantage he might garner from the offered educational program. As we reflect on Daniel, we should ask how strong is our resolve not to compromise our beliefs? How strongly do we cling to the word of God as it is revealed to us?
My prayer today is for the strength to let go of things that keep me from praying as the widow prayed, and as Ignatius prayed, “Take Lord, receive all . . .”
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