Last weekend I had the chance to make a retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani. It’s a wonderful place to make a retreat if you don’t mind silence! It is also a wonderful place to make a retreat if you enjoy quiet walks through fields and woods. The Abbey has many acres of woodland, including steep hills and deep hollows. Since I recently hurt my knee, I planned a route that would be peaceful and pleasant and involve little or no climbing. It went very well and I enjoyed the quiet time to pray. Along the trail I chose was a little stone house called St. Enoch’s. It provides a place to stop and pray for awhile.
When I resumed my trek, I came upon another retreatant hiking the other way. He asked me if St. Enoch’s was near and we got into a little conversation about the monastery grounds. It was his first time at Gethsemani, and he was hiking up the various hills and was on his way to another that afternoon. I told him that I was keeping it as easy I could because of my knee. He immediately asked if I was okay, if there was anything I needed. And then, out of the blue, he offered me his hiking stick. Now, having been up some of those hills, I knew he was going to need that stick more than I would. And he was going to be out there longer than I was, but still he offered me…a total stranger…his hiking stick. At that moment, he thought more of me getting back okay than of anything that might possibly happen to him. I thanked him and declined the offer because I knew the hard part of my walk was done. Still, the very thought of the offer stayed with me.
His act was an act of love, the love that Christ teaches us, the love we see in both the reading from Kings and in Mark’s Gospel this weekend. My hiking friend needed that stick more than I did. The widow in the reading from Kings needed the flour and oil more than Elijah did, and the widow making her temple donation in Mark’s gospel needed the money more than the temple did. Still they gave. Why would they do that? Out of the sacrifice that can only come from true love. They gave in faith, they asked for nothing in return, and they have been blessed for their giving.
Isn’t this also the love Christ has for us, the love that led him to be obedient to the Father and die for us on the cross, only to rise again to free us from our sin? Only he was not the recipient of the blessing the way the widow in Kings was. We are. This is the gift we receive as we gather here today. This is the gift we will take with us when we leave.
Each of these acts of love is centered on little things…flour, a coin, a stick. But the giving was a sacrifice on each who gave, as was the sacrifice of Christ, whose incredible gift to us continues to play itself out each day in any number of little gifts.
When we give ourselves to God, when we grow in our faith, these random acts of love become more and more frequent. We do them not to feel good about doing the right thing, but because it is our natural, faithful, loving response to the God who loves us. In short, we are living the way he meant us to live. If you choose a life like that of the Scribes, who worked every angle to have what they thought to be a “good life,” you will find yourself with a restless heart, one searching for something more. That something more can be found in the Eucharist. From it springs the love of Jesus Christ, which fills our hearts and leads us to do things that spread the Kingdom of God on earth, things like sharing flower and oil, sacrificing some money for the church, or offering our walking stick to strangers.