In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods. Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king's palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king's court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. The palace master said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king."
Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: "Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe." So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.
At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams. At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king's court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
One day Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the temple treasury; he also noticed a poor widow put in two small copper coins.
He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."
Daniel and the three companions were at a turning point in their lives. Their former existence in the land of Judah had been disrupted and they must begin all over again at the royal court in Babylon. They are willing to adapt, learn the new language and be instructed in Babylonian customs, but they drew the line at where change would be sinful and would amount to compromise with the will of God. That line may seem strange to us, as it was their absolute refusal to eat unclean food, against the Law of Moses, but in their culture this seemingly small matter was of vital importance. Their dedication led to a depth of wisdom that made them admired and loved, for loyalty to God can bring a peace and contentment that are not otherwise reached, and the gentle Daniel could make his way through the complexities of the royal court.
By the grace of God our personal integrity will sustain us through life and enable us to turn again to God after momentary lapses. The trials of life do not destroy but purify the person of faith. The gospel has the example of the widow who drops two copper coins into the treasury. Jesus declares that by giving what she could not afford, it was worth more than the wealthiest donation. We must be ready when the spirit inspires us to give in ways that are outside our comfort zone, ways that can unite us with Jesus who gave himself totally on the cross for us. The widow dropped in her coins, never realizing that anyone saw what she was doing, never thinking that it would be remembered throughout the world. Only when the time comes will each of us know the reality of what we have given to our neighbour and to God.
The phrase "widow's mite" has come into our language from the gospel we have just heard. It brings home the paradox that, sometime, in giving a lot, some people are actually giving a little, whereas other people, in giving a little, are actually giving a lot. The widow gave less than anybody else to the temple treasury, but, in reality, she gave an enormous amount, because she gave everything she had. That paradox is true even of our own individual lives. There are times when we may appear to be giving very little but, in reality, we are giving a lot, because we are giving as much as we can give. For various reasons, we can be below par. Our health may be troubling us; our energy level may be low because of some personal issue we are struggling with. What we have within ourselves to give is much less than it usually is. In those circumstances, even to give a little of ourselves can be giving a great deal, can, in fact, be giving everything, because all we have to give is a little. The widow in today's gospel reminds us that, even when we have little to give, we can still be extremely generous.