THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
11 NOVEMBER 2018
Widows in the Ancient Near East lived at the bottom of society. Without any social safety net in a world where men earned their living, widows were extremely vulnerable. This would have been especially true of the widow of Zarephath in the first reading. Her situation was even worse, because she lived in an area where there had been a severe drought for years.
Into her life walks Elijah. The widow would regard him as the enemy. He was the one who announced the drought as a punishment for the sins of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Yet, the widow still offers him hospitality – a small cupful of water. Amazingly, she trusts his word that his God would provide for her and her son when she makes a small cake out of the little oil and water that she has left. She puts herself into the flow of God’s giving by giving the little she has. God rewards her trust by providing food for her and her son for an entire year.
Centuries later, Jesus encounters another widow in the Temple. Like the widow of Zarephath, she too is at the bottom. Jesus criticizes the learned theologians who are at the top. They enjoy the benefits of their positions: their long robes, their seats of honor in synagogues, and the best places at banquets. They are the ones who serve as trustees for impoverished widows, keeping too much from their meager resources in payment for their services. In sharp contrast, Jesus points out the poor widow who puts two small coins into the Temple treasury. Unlike the large coins that would have made a lot of noise going down the trumpet shaped containers, her small coins would not have been noticed. But Jesus notices her. She gives of her substance, trusting the God will give back more than she could have given herself.
These two widows have much to teach us as we advance in the spiritual life. When we become too comfortable and accustomed to relying on our own resources, we tend to fill our lives with more stuff. Those who have gone through twelve step programs know this truth. It is only when they have hit rock bottom that they can begin to trust that God will provide what they need to confront their addictions. Those who adopt the attitude of the widows can actually grow in trusting that God will provide. That is why so many in our parish have embraced stewardship as a way of life. Stewardship teaches the lessons that the widows already knew – that God gives back more than we give. Good stewards set aside a first and generous time for personal prayer, especially the hour at Mass on Sunday when we give thanks to God for all God has given. Good stewards set aside a first portion of their busy schedule to give time in humble service. Good stewards sacrifice a first portion of their treasure, instead of tossing in whatever is left over.
Jesus notices this widow in the Temple just days before he is stripped of everything and gives his life completely for us on the cross. The widow points to what he will do. He will contribute all that he has for our salvation. His trust in the Father will be returned when he will be raised from the dead and share that resurrection with those who die with him.
It takes a lot of courage to take those first steps in embracing stewardship as a way of life, because we fear that we will not have enough. But those who have taken that first step begin to experience the reality that they receive much more back than they ever give. As we pray for the courage to embrace the faith of those two widows, we also pray for our bishops, who will meet this week to confront the damage done by certain religious leaders of our time have used their positions to enrich themselves to the detriment of Christ’s Body, the Church. We pray that they will have the courage to listen carefully to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to introduce reforms to the Church and healing to those who have been harmed. Our prayer is based on the experience of the widows that God will always give back more than we can ever offer.