As a nation we remember today all those who died in the two world wars. We recall those who died bravely and those who died tragically, those who died as heroes, and those who lie in the earth unknown. We often, and rightly, speak of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country. But I want today, to speak of the importance of self-sacrifice in general, and to do so in reference to the example we just heard Our Lord refer to in what He taught us about sacrifice in the Parable of the Widow’s Mite.
The true value of the widow’s gift wasn’t known by the people around her. If we think, in particular, of those men and women who gave their lives in the Second World War, they didn’t know the full effect and value of the sacrifice they made. They knew they were involved in a terrible war, but they didn’t know the even larger significance of it. When they died, neither they nor the Allies knew the true horror of the Nazi atrocities, of the millions killed in the gas chambers, of the millions in England who would have been killed if the Nazis had won the war. They didn’t know just how much they saved us from, and so their sacrifice had a value far beyond the one they realised.
The same must be said of any sacrifice, any good deed, and this is what Our Lord was teaching about the Widow’s Mite. The value of her offering wasn’t the money; after all, it was just a penny. The value of her offering was that it was her everything. She gave not from her surplus, she gave everything she had. And what gives this value is God, the God who watches over all our deeds, who accepts all our sacrifices, our works of mercy, our prayers, and indeed our very lives: the God who uses and accepts them as prayers.
God wants each of us to offer ourselves to him, to offer our lives as a living sacrifice, because in him our lives acquire a new supernatural value, one beyond what we can know and see with our own eyes.
Many of us can get discouraged from time to time over the effort of our lives, or over the way that there seems to be so little gain for the good works we try to do. We can come to think that it’s not worth bothering. Why should I continue to be nice to that person when he never changes, when he’s never nice to me? Why should I be the only person at work or school who doesn’t use foul language, or the only person who refuses to be dishonest in business? Why should I continue to pray when nothing ever seems to change? Why should I clean up after the kids, yet again, when they’ll only mess up the place 2 seconds later?
Such discouragement is natural. But the lesson of the Widow’s Mite is that there is more to life than the natural, more than we can see. If we judge ourselves only by what we can see then we will grow discouraged, we’ll think that there is no point. But there is more to life. There is God, and the value He puts on our works. He accepts them as offerings to Him, and in the cosmic balance these offerings change the Universe. In this our deeds have an effect we simply do not know. And there is heaven too, the eternal glory and merit that will be assigned to our deeds and our lives. If we forget this then we forget the true meaning of our life, and what gives true meaning to our actions.
The widow who gave her last bit of food to share it with the Prophet Elijah didn’t know what lay in store for her. But she had faith to do good anyway, and God transformed her offering into more than enough food. God transforms our offerings too. He said that we will be repaid as much as a hundredfold for our generosity.
We can see today that the ultimate sacrifice paid by those brave men and women who gave their lives for their country had a great value, but it’s full value will only be completely disclosed in heaven. Their sacrifice was greater than the ones most of us encounter daily, but the same truth holds. We must never let ourselves be discouraged over what can seem like small effects of our good deeds: there’s an eternal value and effect that transcends what we can see, and so it is worth being good.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn, at the going down of the sun, and at the rising we will remember them.