Sunday Sermon for November 11, 2012, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: 1Ki 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44

In all three of the readings today we see the same theme: giving all. The widow of Zarephath is the one who always amazes me the most because she was a pagan. Even so, one can understand why the Lord chose to send Elijah to her: she had faith in God. The problem the Israelites were having at the time of Elijah was one of faith. They were not really sure if the Lord was God and they had fallen into the worship of Baal.

Because of the lack of faith in Israel, God sent Elijah to Sidon where they too were suffering from the absolute drought that had plagued the area for some time already, and would not end until three and a half years were complete. When Elijah arrives at the town he calls out to the woman to bring him something to eat. When the woman states that she was going to bake the last of what she had and then she and her son would die, we see that she was being tested to the extreme.

Even so, when Elijah called her she not only responded with the statement of faith in the Living God: “As the Lord your God lives…” but she was also willing to trust Him to provide for her son and herself as she used everything she and her son had to eat in order to feed Elijah. This is not only an act of immense faith and trust, it is also an act of profound charity. Ask yourself what you would do if there was only enough for one very small meal for your children and yourself and someone asked you to feed him before you feed your family. Most of us would not respond very positively, let alone give the last of what we had to a stranger.

Perhaps one could make the case that Elijah was known to the people of the general area around Israel. We do not know this, but it is possible. It is still remarkable, even if this is correct, that this widow would have enough faith in God to give her last morsels to His Prophet. The widow in the Gospel did something similar in that she gave her whole livelihood. Unlike the widow from Zarephath, this widow in Jerusalem was Jewish and her giving was more directly to God as she deposited her money in the Temple treasury. Regardless, it was still all that she had and she gave it all to God, trusting that He would provide for her needs.

This kind of generosity will be richly rewarded by God, but maybe not the way we would expect when we think of a rich reward. The widow of Zarephath, like the Israelites in the desert, had to trust that God would somehow put oil and flour into her jars. I suspect that He did not fill the jars; rather, He did not allow them to run out. They probably stayed near the bottom and she had to trust daily that He would provide. The widow of the Gospel had to trust that God would provide for her since she now had no money with which to buy provisions. She was probably never rich in the monetary sense, but she was very rich in the treasures of Heaven.

The ultimate example of the giving of everything is seen in the second reading where St. Paul speaks about our Lord offering Himself for our sins. It is important to note that he talks about the fact that Jesus did not enter the sanctuary made by human hands, which was a copy of the sanctuary in Heaven. Instead, He entered into the true Holy of Holies to offer His supreme sacrifice. This is of the greatest importance because Moses was commanded to make a copy of what he was shown and to offer sacrifices that imitated what he saw. Since the only sacrifice that took place in that true Sanctuary is the sacrifice of Jesus, Moses had to have been shown the offering of the Lamb of God. The Jewish ceremonies were to imitate that sacrifice.

Today we have that one sacrifice that was offered once for all time. Jesus is not sacrificed repeatedly, as St. Paul notes, so the sacrifice we offer is not an imitation, but the reality. The challenge for us now is to make sure our disposition is correct as we offer this gift to God. As members of Jesus we cannot be passive observers of His sacrifice; rather we must actively participate in it. The examples we are given in today’s readings demonstrate that this disposition must be one of complete self-giving. Therefore, we have to unite ourselves with Jesus and, with Him, we must be willing to give all to God.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit