32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The First Book of Kings furnishes the first reading from the Scriptures.
Political governance, in the minds of the ancient Hebrews, was not their king’s chief function. Rather, assuring the nation’s faithfulness to God, and to the law of God given through Moses, was the king’s primary demand.
Since this religious function was so vital, it is not surprising that many stories in the Books of Kings revolve not around the monarchs, but around the prophets who were active at the time. Prophets spoke for God.
Such is the case this weekend. Central in the story is Elijah, the prophet, who appears at the gate of a city and encounters a woman collecting twigs and branches to use as firewood.
She obviously is quite poor. First, she must forage for fuel, although this was not uncommon. Secondly, she told the prophet when he asked for food that she had only a handful of flour and a little oil. She also told him that she had to feed her son. The impression left is that she was a widow, and her son was a child.
In fact, she is so poor that she tells Elijah that after she and her son consume whatever she can bake using the meager amount of flour and oil on hand, she and the son will die. There is nothing else.
Elijah tells her that she and the son will not die. He says that if she will feed the prophet, then God will provide. The story ends by telling us that she prepared food for Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out.
For its second reading, the church this weekend gives us a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. Scholars do not know precisely who the author of this epistle was. Regardless of identity or personal circumstances, the author knew the history and traditions of Judaism, and the author was a skillful writer.
Building upon Jewish themes, the author writes about Jesus in the most soaring language.
The reading declares that God has ordained that all people must die, but God also has ordained that all may live if they turn to Jesus. This is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, and because of the reality of Jesus as a human and as the Son of God, in the mystery theologians call the Incarnation.
St. Mark’s Gospel offers us the last reading. It is a familiar story, appearing also in Luke, but not in Matthew.
The message is clear. The poor widow who gave to the temple a small donation, but great for her in her poverty, is the paragon of love for God and trust in God. Jesus spoke of her as such.
The widow’s mite often is used either to urge generosity in giving to worthy causes, or to define the motive for giving to the church or to another activity for a noble cause.
These interpretations are correct. However, the lesson is not just about money and about being generous. It also is about trust — absolute trust in God.
We must trust in God despite the false warnings and contrary directions sent us by the world, the flesh and the devil, despite our fears and cravings.
Being generous with God also means being generous in trusting God. It is much easier to donate to the church or to charity, if we are so able, than to dismiss the conventions of our culture, or our own instincts, and trust in the law of God and in the eternal life awaiting those who truly love Jesus.
Material generosity is good, but it must reveal complete faith.
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