32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The First Book of Kings furnishes this weekend’s first reading from the Scriptures.
Political governance, in the minds of the ancient Hebrews, was not the chief function of their kings. Rather, assuring the nation’s faithfulness to God and to the law of God given through Moses, was their kings’ primary duty.
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.
Such is the case this weekend. The central figure in the story is Elijah, the prophet. In this story, Elijah appears at the gate of a city and encounters a woman collecting twigs and branches to use as firewood.
She obviously is quite poor. She must forage for fuel. She needed food to provide for 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. He calls her to trust.
For its second reading, the Church this weekend gives us a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. Building upon traditional 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. In the story, the Lord speaks quite sternly about scribes. Scribes, able to read and write in an era when religious knowledge mattered more than anything else, were specialists in interpreting the law of Moses and were well regarded as such.
Jesus does not belittle the law of Moses but the self-satisfaction and even sinful pride of the scribes.
He presents a contrast. At the time, in that culture, widows could be very vulnerable. 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 is a story beloved by Christians for generations. It is a story of generosity. Even sinners, however, at times can be generous.
This widow’s generosity is a sign of her trust in God and of her understanding that the work of God on earth, such as the worship provided through the religious treasury, was entitled to her cooperation.
Trusting in God has its challenges. The times may be uncertain, leading us to fret about warnings and dire possibilities in the future. As in everything, the world, the flesh and the devil distract us.
The wise are humble. Humility is about recognizing that we belong to God, and that God is supreme. The wise trust. We can never fully control our futures in this world. Reversals may, and usually do, come. We can assure for ourselves a place in eternity by never failing to love God and to obey God.
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