Rabindranath Tagore who won the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1913 wrote this story, “I had gone, begging from door to door, on the village road, when your golden chariot appeared in the distance, like a splendid dream, and I was admiring who was that King of all kings. My hopes soared and I thought: ‘My bad days are over,’ and already I stood anticipating spontaneous alms and riches scattered everywhere in the dust. The chariot stopped where I was standing. Your eyes fell on me and you dismounted with a smile. I felt that the chance of a lifetime had finally come my way. Then, suddenly you extended your right hand and said me: ‘What have you to give me?’ Oh, what royal sport was that? Put out a hand to beg from a beggar? I was embarrassed and lost; finally, from my beggar’s bag I slowly took out a tiny grain of wheat and gave it to you. But how great was my surprise when, at the day’s end, I found a tiny grain of gold among the heap of ordinary grains. Then I wept bitterly and thought: ‘If only I had had the heart to give everything!” (“Gitanjali: pub. 1912. n. 50).
The beggar who said, “If only I had had the heart to give everything” expresses regrets that he should have been more generous. This is a story that we can learn much from as in many ways it captures the contrast between the beggar and the poor widow in today’s Gospel. Note that both characters are poor. While the beggar was very cautious and very self-conscious of his needs and thus, only gave a grain of wheat away, the poor widow in the Gospel was totally generous and selfless. She gave away everything she had to live on.” If we were to reflect on the way we live daily and our life style, it is good that we ask ourselves a basic question, “Am I generally more concerned about my own well-being and needs, like the beggar, or am I more like the poor widow of the Gospel?”
We are good people who believe in God and the teachings of Jesus. However, I think for most of us, it is not unfair for me to say that Tagore’s story of the beggar in many ways describe the attitudes we have in our daily living more accurately than the poor widow of the Gospel. This is because we have a tendency to hold back what we have, instead of share what we have. We are each so blessed in so many ways by God with good health, financial wealth, many talents and time in our hands. If God were to appear to us today, He would probably ask us, “What are you doing with your good health and how are you spending your wealth and using your time and talents? While all of these abundant blessings have been given by My Father in heaven to you, they are not meant solely for you. Your blessings are meant to be shared with others who have less or don’t have them.
Many of us may say, “But, Lord, we have to provide for our own future needs, our children’s educational expenses, our needs in our old age, our vacations and the like!” Yes, we do not deny that we have to provide for such needs. However, if we are satisfied only with providing for our own needs and not look beyond, then we are not only behaving like the beggar in Tagore’s story. We are more importantly, missing the message and the challenge that Jesus is posing to you and me today.
The question that Jesus may be challenging us to reflect on today could be, “What is it that the poor widow has in her that we do not seem to have?” “What is it that the widow is able to see in life that we do not seem to see about life?” I believe had a most unique and radical attitude and perspective of life that we don’t seem to have. If we want to be true followers of Christ, then there is only one attitude and one perspective in life. And that attitude and perspective is that of Christ, which is a radical others-centered spirituality were the needs of others must affect us and challenge us to reach out to them. Christ was so totally others-centered that He willingly came into our lives and our world in order that we can be saved from our selfishness and sinfulness. In doing so, He willingly suffered and died for us.
Victims of Typhoon Ketsana in the Philipines and Vietnam
It was only about six weeks ago that typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines and killed 288 people and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Amidst such tragedy, we also heard of the heroic courage of Muelmar Magallanes, an 18 year old boy who saved the lives of his family and more than twenty lives of his neighbourhood from being swept away by the floods. Eyewitnesses testified how Muelmar was so selfless, fearless and determined to save one life after another, especially the children that even though he was visibly exhausted, he returned to save one more life after another, until a wall fell on him and the currents of the flood swept him away.
Muelmar’s father said, “It is painful for me that he is gone, but we are proud of the heroism he showed to his neighbours.” Fr Reyes called him “a martyr who saved the lives of his neighbours.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, we don’t need a flood before we are given the opportunity to act like Muelmar or to become poor before we act like poor widow of the Gospel. God’s Will for us is simple. We are each called to begin with our ordinary daily living situations. We are each challenged simply to allow the lives of others whom we know who are in need to affect us whether they are in need materially, financially, physically, emotionally or spiritually. We are each challenged to become more Christ-like. When I ask the Cannosian and the Little Sisters of the Poor nuns tell me how they are able to serve the poor, aged and dying with so much compassion, they each tell me that the learn to see the presence of Christ in the people they serve.
The parents of Muelmar shared that their son had always been a good and caring boy. I am sure the poor widow in today’s Gospel too had been a very good woman who had been very selfless and caring all her life, in different ways, even though she was very poor. Such gospel values do not appear in our hearts over night. And, so if we want to live a meaningful life, and not weep bitterly like the beggar in the story, on our dying bed, with deep regrets of, “If only I had had the heart to give everything,” then Christ challenge for us is to do something daily out of concern, care and love for others and for God.
Let me conclude by saying that, if we share the abundant blessings that God has given us freely and generously, and care for the needs of others selflessly and courageously, all our good deeds even though the simple and small ones would be “turned” into and weigh like “gold” so to speak when we meet God after we die . . . as Jesus said, we would reap a rich harvest of thirty, sixty or hundred fold.
In short, Jesus is reminding us that what matters most in life is more than what we give and do, but the challenge to love God and His people as fully and as generously as we can. If there is genuine love for God, like the poor widow, we would be willing to give not only till it hurts, but everything that God has given us. Muelmar and the many good and selfless people we know, like Fr O’Neill have shown us that this is possible. Onlythrough such selfless and genuine living for the sake and good of others, like Christ, can we say that we are living a meaningful and happy life. But, if we choose to be like the guarded beggar, who is guarded at all times for his own needs, then life can only be bland and superficial.
Our lives are in our hands and God respects our freedom at all times; the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our daily choices. Do we want to continue living like the guarded beggar or the selfless poor widow that reflects the Christ-like vocation which we are each are called to live? The choice is ours
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.