Before I became a priest I studied marketing for two years. One thing we were taught was that in the past companies would try to find a ‘need’ that people had and then make a product to meet that need. As marketing began to develop they realised they could create a need in people’s minds and then offer the product for it. In other words they would convince people that they needed a particular product that they had never even heard of before. And then they would offer the product. It’s clever and it is very effective. No doubt half the things in my house are items that I have been convinced I need. But of course the irony is that most of the world lives without much of what I have and they do just fine.
There was an ad on the radio at one stage for fast food, which finished with the words: ‘too good to share’. ‘[Our food is] too good to share.’ Of course it’s just an advertisement to promote a company, but the underlying thinking is very much that of our world which says we should only look after ourselves, ‘because you’re worth it’! We can neglect others so long as we have enough. We can justify invading other countries in order to make ourselves financially more secure. We see it happening all the time. The Lord Jesus teaches us the exact opposite.
Mother Teresa was being asked about her work one time, and she said that their mother taught them that they should never eat anything which they weren’t prepared to share with someone else. She was brought up to be aware of the needs of others. Of course we should look after ourselves and our families, but we also have a responsibility to look after others, especially those who are less fortunate, or more vulnerable.
Confucius, who lived over two thousand years ago, taught that we should look after the poor with the same urgency we would give to someone if their house was on fire. That’s impressive.
In the readings today the Lord is not just talking about the need to give, but perhaps more importantly the need to trust in God, which enables us to be free to give. Jesus pointed out the poor woman who put the last of her money into the treasury, because she wasn’t afraid. She obviously had faith in God which gave her the freedom to do this. She believed God would look after her and that’s why Jesus pointed her out. It wasn’t a criticism of the others so much as giving her credit for her generosity because of her faith. Her faith gave her the freedom to be able to do this.
In the first reading the prophet Elijah asks for food from a woman who has almost nothing left and is about to die. But he convinces her to trust in the word of God and because she does she is rewarded. God is never out-done in generosity. She believes and trusts in God and God then takes care of her through the prophet Elijah.
The Lord is inviting us to do the same, that is, above all to trust him that He is looking after us and will look after us. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and then all these other things will be give you as well. Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask.’
God is very practical and knows exactly what we need and also what we are able for. God doesn’t ask us to do something we are not able for, but He is all the time getting us to push the boat out a little bit more. That’s what faith is all about. Trusting in God enables us to take steps that we might not take otherwise. We’re not just talking about material things here either. The Lord wants us to believe that He is looking after us, our families, those we love, those who are sick, those who have died. There is no aspect of our life which God is not interested in. No one is asking us to sell everything and live out on the street, that wouldn’t make any sense. But the Lord does say, ‘do not be afraid to give.’ God will never be outdone in generosity.