32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Two Widows Who Gave Everything.”
As long as our lessons to catechumens and new Christians speak only of prayers, ceremonies, feasts and the need to make some offerings to God, everybody listens attentively and seems fully committed.
The first reading and the Gospel of today says that God asks much more than this. He demands that all the goods of this world, even those acquired through our hard work, must be shared with our brothers and sisters in need. Can we accept this challenge of true charity?
The only sacrifice that pleases God – says the second reading – is a heart ready to love men and women and a will to prove that love by action.
The women of strong faith who we meet in today’s readings throw down a challenge to us all. They both lost almost everything, and were still ready to give away what little they had left – what kind of persons are able to do that? It seems a mystery but that is what gives us the hint of the awesome power of self-sacrificing love.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
1 Kings 17:10-16.
The worship of Baal was a continuous temptation for the people of Israel. This pagan god, according to his priests and followers, promised abundant crops, joy, wealth and life; why not worship him instead of Yahweh? This is how many in Israel came to abandon God at the time of the prophet Elijah. And what happened? Instead of rains, there followed a long spell of drought and famine. Idols and false gods are all the same: they promise a lot, but in the end they disappoint and fail to deliver.
Due to the severe drought, the king of Israel, Ahab, started an enquiry and discovered that it was Elijah who had cursed the land and declared that there was not going to be a drop of rain for the next three years. King Ahab, in retaliation, sent soldiers to look for Elijah and to kill him. The episode we read today is to be set in this context.
In order to escape Ahab’s wrath, Elijah fled and one day he arrived in Zarephath. As he entered the town, he met a widow gathering sticks for fire in order to bake her last measure of flour with the little oil that she still had. Knowing her desperate situation, the prophet asked her only for some drinking water, and as she was going to get it, he shouted after her: “Bring me some bread too!” Things were bad enough after her husband died, and she and her son were plunged into poverty. But now this: another mouth to feed, from God no less. The widow must have wondered if her prayers were being mocked. As she carefully explained the situation to the prophet, a small flutter of hope might have brushed her. Would God act on her behalf at last?
Elijah asks her to believe in God’s promises, and she does. And no one goes hungry in her house throughout the remainder of the famine. If we are to truly understand the widow of Zarephath, we need to notice something about her that has probably not been part of our own experience: She and her son were starving. They had strictly rationed themselves as their store of food diminished. Meals would have got fewer and smaller. She and her son must have been wasting away long before they could have got to the last handful of flour. Yet when a stranger asked her for something to eat, she did not say no.
The generosity of the poor widow, who shares what little she had with the prophet, who was poorer than she was, resulted in the multiplication of the insufficient food that she had. God provided for the widow of Zarephath and her son. She was desperately poor, unimportant and without resources. She nonetheless attracted the care and the attention of God. Such are the miracles that occur through the grace of God when we practice charity. Often, we who have been blessed with much more are less able to believe in God’s promises.
Maybe depending on our own efforts for so long makes us jaded in our faith in anything but ourselves. Faith, like any other attribute, must be exercised if it is to bear fruit. We cannot draw on a dormant or weak faith in times of crises and expect it to be there for us. Like something discarded in the cellar for too long, it may lose its capacity to serve.
In the context of Elijah, the widow and her son, God does what Baal was supposed to do: provide for his people. God preserves his prophet from harm and includes the weak, poor, powerless widow and her son in his loving care. This brief story is a narrative of power and of faith. The pagan gods will not prevail. The word of the Lord will both punish his enemies and protect his friends.
The Psalm sings of the reliability of God ‘who keeps faith for ever’. It is this quality that makes it possible for us to do unexplained things, for God ‘does justice for the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry; God sets prisoners free’. God, the King of Sion, counts as his responsibilities, the care of the seemingly unimportant, ‘strangers, orphans and widows’. ‘YHWH will reign forever’.
The text of today gives two reasons why Jesus must be considered as the only ‘true priest’. The ancient priests, says the reading, offered their sacrifices in a material temple made of stones, while Jesus’ priesthood is exercised in heaven, in a sanctuary not built by human hands.
What was the purpose of the priesthood in the Old Covenant? It was to purify the people from their guilt and to cancel their sins. To do this, once a year the high priest entered the most sacred part of the Temple, and there he poured out the blood of animals. Why every year? Because such a rite did not, in fact, purify the people of their sins. The ‘root of all evil’ always remained, and men and women continued to be wicked. So the ceremony of expiation had to be repeated yearly.
When Jesus offered up the perfect sacrifice, he did not pour out the blood of animals but shed his ‘own blood’ on Calvary. Like the servant in Isaiah, he took on the sins of all. When he appears a second time, it will not be to repeat the sacrifice, but to take with him the men and women that he freed from sin.
Having warned his hearers against merely ‘outward practices’ that are performed only to attract attention, Jesus invites his disciples to be like the poor widow he sees making her offering in the Temple. She gave generously from the little she had to live on.
The situation of widows in many patriarchal societies is not an easy one, especially when they depended on their husbands for their livelihood. When a husband dies, his widow can find herself without any source of income. She can be easily exploited by the relatives of her dead husband, who may take away everything, claiming that it all belonged to them. She is often left with very little for herself and her children to live on. For such a widow it was important that she use whatever resources she had carefully.
Mark presents the woman in the Gospel of today as the ‘poor widow’ and the point is repeated by Jesus as he draws the attention of his disciples to her. That is why she cannot give the treasury as much as the others, only ‘two small coins’. That a widow gives just a few pennies seems normal to us. For Jesus it is an abnormal, extraordinary gift. From her poverty she gave “everything she possessed, everything she had to live on”.
Her generosity has made her vulnerable. She will have to count on the generosity of others to survive. She can neither support herself nor her family any more. She has done something radical. She has given more than just a gift to the treasury of the Temple. She offered up ‘all that she had’. In doing so she has ‘offered herself totally to God’ and shows that ‘she depends on God completely’.
Jesus invites all of his people and disciples to imitate her. His disciples are still trying to understand why Jesus will give himself totally in his sufferings. Their own concern has been about honour and privileges rather than about total self-giving. Now as they get closer to the moment of the Passion, Death and Resurrection, the example of the widow will help them realize that such total self- giving is possible for everyone, even the poor and the weak such as themselves and the widow.
Both widows in today’s readings had very little to give, but they gave what they had. The quantity of their giving was not its most significant element. What mattered was their reverence for God’s prophet and God’s house, which they expressed by freely sharing the little bit that they had at their disposal. Their commitment to God and their trust in him was total.
We are all called to help provide for the praise of God and his Church and what counts is not how much we give, but the portion of our own being that accompanies our gift. Today’s message of self-giving is possible for everyone, even for the desperately poor two widows. It puts before us attitudes worth imitating for those who long for the realization of God’s Kingdom. We need to always remember that generosity is not measured by the amount we give, but by the amount we have left for ourselves after we have given.
What the widow has done has no merit in the world’s assessment, but that makes it all the more valuable in the eyes of God. Is such total self-giving also possible for us?
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the
32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … Like the ancient Israelites, are we sometimes tempted to worship other gods? What or who would we replace our God with? A ‘god’ that we hope would give us good luck, continuous pleasure without any sufferings, and grant us all our desires and untold riches? How will all these self-seeking cravings bring us to our salvation?
Mon. … Like Elijah we need to flee from the likelihood of ‘death’. The glamour, power and the false promises of the world could lead to the ‘death of our spirituality’. We need to re-discover the gratuitous love of sharing and the humility to be a servant for others. We need to have trust and faith in God and to always do his will.
Tues. … Love is all-powerful and contagious. When we all share what little we may have with others less fortunate than us, imagine the possibilities of the miracles of charity that can be achieved through the grace of God? Miracles happen when we carry out God’s will.
Wed. … Jesus offered up the perfect sacrifice, his blood shed for ‘all’ on the Cross. What sacrifice do we offer up for others? Jesus gave his life for our redemption. Can we offer the ‘widow, orphan and stranger’ more than just a fleeting glance or thought?
Thur. … Are we among those who live in relative comfort and are insulated from the pain and sufferings of poverty? Do we realize that by lack of sensitivity to the plight of the poor, we are certainly contributing to the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor? Do we trust God sufficiently to share our last pennies or last ounce of meal in his name?
Frid. … Many of us wish we could do more for the poor, but paying our bills and taking care of those who depend on us often leaves us with little to spare. Money is not the only currency that comes under the heading of “love thy neighbour”. There are people in our communities for whom we could make a difference; not by giving them money but by giving of our time, our love and ourselves.
Sat. … The two widows of strong faith we meet in today’s readings throw down a challenge for all of us. To lose almost everything and still be ready to give away what one has – what kind of persons were they that they could do that? What was their secret? It is a mystery that gives us a hint of the beauty of ‘true faith and love of one’s neighbour’. Their unexpected charity truly exemplifies the inner beauty and strength of the human spirit when it carries out God’s will and gratuitous love for others. Can we accept the widows’ challenge of giving all?
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Teach us Lord to render selfless service and to acquire a sense of responsibility and not of privilege. Rid us of the selfish tendency of only giving in order to get something from it. We do recognize our hardness of hearts and that there can be few of us who can reflect on today’s readings without incurring an element of shame and guilt in our hearts.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.