What motivates You? God's Love for You or Your Love of Yourself?

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What motivates us? Is it God’s love for us or our love of ourselves, true love or distorted love? The Scripture readings today (Mark 12:38-44; 1 Kings 17:10-16) put two women before us for our reflection as well as the scribes and we see that the women and the scribes had very different motivations. Both women were widows and made acts of extraordinary generosity. The widow in Zarephath fed Elijah. She was willing to share her last bit of food during a famine even with a stranger. She was greatly rewarded as the jar of meal did not empty nor the jug of oil go dry. The widow in the Gospel performed one act of generosity in the temple. Unlike the widow of the first reading, we do not hear the rest of the story about the widow in the Gospel. She gave her last two coins but we can imagine that she was blessed by God. At the very least she was praised by Jesus while just before this Jesus had denounced the scribes for their emphasis on externals when they were interiorly corrupt even to the point of taking widows’ property.

What a difference between the actions of the scribes and the actions of the widow in the treasury. This difference stems from the difference in their relationship with God. It is only someone who is grounded and rooted in God who could act as generously as did those two widows. Their acts of generosity showed that they trusted in God. The scribes on the other hand were grounded in what others thought of them. Their public image was what drove them, not an intimate relationship with God. Their actions were shallow because their relationship with God was shallow. Instead of working to earn the praise of others they would have been better engaged if they trusted in God’s love of them and lived out of God’s love for them. What different people we could expect them to be if they were really animated by the love of God. Then we could expect their actions not to be motivated by seeking glory since they would already be satisfied by the love God. Instead we would expect their actions to be a reflection of the love of God they had already experienced and encountered.

The two widows must have been animated by love of God. We do not see the slightest hint of self-serving in their actions. There was nothing in it for themselves. Their actions gave glory to God. It is only those who know how deeply they are loved by God who can live generously because they already are fully satisfied by the love God. Nothing else can take the place in their lives of being loved by God. A temptation for religious people is to do things to please God rather than grow spiritually by basking in God’s love for us. The scribes had not basked in the love of God for them and they were trying to please God in a way that was all screwed up. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis states, “We may think God wants actions of a certain kind but God wants people of a certain kind.” Knowing how much God loves us will prevent us from getting screwed up like those scribes. It is said that if we know who we are, we will know how to act. Clearly the scribes did not know who they really were, loved by God, and didn’t know how to act. The two widows surely knew who they were because they knew how to act.

Do we really know how much God love us? We are reminded of God’s love in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews which tells us that Christ came to take away our sin by his sacrifice (Heb 9:26,28). There is no end to how much we can meditate on this love of Christ for us.

  • St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that whenever he looked at the crucifix the wounds of Christ seemed like lips speaking to him saying, “I love you.” (The God Who Loves You: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling p20).

  • In the first letter of John we can see what perhaps could be called a simplification of the message between the time he wrote the Gospel and that letter. His first letter is consumed with the love of God. There is a tradition that one of his disciples complained to him because he was preaching about nothing else but the love of God and John replied that there was nothing else to preach about (The God Who Loves You: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling p35).

  • Do we realize how lavishly God wants to bestow his love upon us? God created us in his image and likeness and it has been said that ever since we have been returning the compliment by creating God in our image and likeness. Therefore it is necessary to remind ourselves every day of God’s love for us by meditating on the true image of God that we find in the Scriptures and not any distorted image we have in our minds.

  • The Song of Songs is Jewish love poetry that can be interpreted in a number of different metaphorical ways. One of the metaphorical ways in which it can be interpreted is God’s love for us. God is the Lover and we are God’s Beloved.

May every day be for us another day to grow more intimate with God who loves us.

What motivates us? Is it God’s love for us or our love of ourselves, true love or distorted love? When we come to realize how much God loves us then we do not love ourselves in a distorted way as did the scribes but the love of God heals and frees us to give of ourselves as did the two widows.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2009

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More material for the Thirty-Second Sunday of Year B

Related Homilies: We do not need false appearances because we are citizens of heaven

First Reading The miracle in the dump at Juarez - Give to Jesus and he gives to us