Sunday Sermon for November 11, 2018, the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: 1Ki 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
In the readings today we have three examples of extraordinary charity and generosity which can serve as a catalyst to look at our own disposition regarding charity toward God and neighbor. In the first reading we have one of the most amazing acts of generosity ever recorded. This poor widow from Zarephath is out gathering sticks to make a fire so she can prepare what she expects to be the last meal she will cook. The area was in the midst of a severe drought because there had been no rain for two and a half years. She had only a handful of flour and a little bit of oil to prepare this “last supper” for her son and herself.
As she gathers sticks for her fire, Prophet Elijah arrives at the gate of the town. He asks the woman for a cup of water. This does not seem like too much of an imposition, but with the severe drought, this would be a much bigger request than what it might appear on the surface. Nonetheless, the woman goes immediately, without a word of question or complaint, to obtain the water. Keep in mind this woman was not Jewish; we do not know whether she knew about Elijah, but she knew he was Jewish and acknowledged the truth about his God being a living God: “As the Lord your God lives…”
Already we see the disposition of this heroic woman and the reason God sent His prophet to a pagan woman. Her faith in God was already extraordinary; now she would be given an opportunity to demonstrate the depths of that faith. As she walks away to get the water, Elijah calls out after her to make him a small cake and bring it to him. Amazing as it would have been for the widow to put aside her own need for food in order to extend hospitality to a visitor, for a mother to deprive her own son of food for a stranger goes against what is natural to us as human beings.
She believed Elijah when he told her the flour would not run out and the jar of oil would not go dry. With her extraordinary faith and amazing charity, she made the cake for Elijah that day and for a year after, she, Elijah, and her son all ate without adding anything to the provisions that were about to run out.
In the Gospel we hear about another poor widow who puts two small coins in the Temple treasury. Jesus observes what she did and tells His disciples she put in more than anyone else, even though there were people with far more wealth who put in much larger sums of money. The reason she put in more was because she, from her poverty, offered everything she had. Jesus emphasizes the point by adding “her whole livelihood.”
Like the pagan widow in the first reading, this Jewish widow is willing to give God everything she has even though it may be tiny by worldly standards. Her trust in God is made eminently clear because after putting the money in the treasury, she did not have any money even to buy herself something to eat. We recall the words of our Lord that we are not to worry about what we are to wear or what we are to eat. He tells us God knows what we need and will provide for us as He provides food for the birds of the air who do not plant or harvest.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks about our Lord’s charity and generosity: He offered Himself for our sake and now has entered into Heaven. Like the two widows mentioned above, Jesus offered to God everything He had. In this case, it was not a matter of God providing food for Christ in an extraordinary way so He could continue His life on earth. Rather, it was about Christ offering everything to God and receiving eternal life from God. His charity has not ended, however, because St. Paul tells us Jesus appears now before God, interceding on our behalf.
If Jesus offered Himself for us and is interceding right now before the throne of His Father on our behalf, do we really think He will fail in providing what we need? Remember St. Paul’s question when he asked if God did not spare His only Son, do you think He would withhold anything from us? God’s generosity and charity are established. What about us? The Church gives us the example of two heroic widows and Jesus Himself, all of whom gave everything they had out of love for God. Do we have the faith that God will provide for us and the charity to offer everything 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 www.thewandererpress.com.