32d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Nov. 6, 1994
Mark 12: 38-44
1 Kgs 17: 10-16
St. Anthony, Nanuet, N.Y.
Since I was preaching to Boy Scouts and Scouters on Nov. 7 this year (previous item), I didn’t have a written text for my homily (on the reading from Hebrews this year). Here’s an oldie for you.
There was a working man with a wife and 4 kids. One day one of his neighbors took off, abandoning his family. The poor deserted wife couldn’t handle the situation and had to be committed. The worker and his wife took into their home the 2 children of the shattered family. He explained: “Don’t tell me that it’s up to the government to change the world! Every one of us has to do a little more than the little we already do. [What my wife and I have done] isn’t much, I know, but at least it’s something!”
It’s true that this worker and his wife and their 4 children didn’t open an orphanage or a homeless shelter to care for hundreds of the needy. But most of us would agree that they did a great deal, probably more than most of us would do.
Almost daily we read or hear of some ordinary person who reaches out, perhaps with some risk, to help a neighbor or even a stranger—pulling a woman from a burning wreck on the Cross Bronx Expy., jumping into a river to save someone, holding a mattress so a woman can jump safely from a burning building, blocking and holding an ATM mugger inside a bank lobby. Those real-life examples from the last 2 months or so may not be as flashy as tackling a madman with an automatic rifle at the White House, but some were just as dangerous, most saved a life, all made a positive difference.
In today’s OT and gospel readings, we find widows who put their trust in God and do their little bit. The starving widow of Zarephath—who was not even an Israelite, by the way—shares her last miserable little meal with the prophet Elijah, who is a refugee from the wealthy but wicked Queen Jezebel of Israel. And God miraculously provides for the widow, her son, and the prophet for a year.
|Elijah & the Widow by Bartholomeus Breenbergh (d. ca. 1657)|
The poor widow in the temple of Jerusalem puts 2 pennies into one of the boxes for the support of the temple and its daily sacrifices, in contrast with many far wealthier people who were putting in larger amounts. Jesus praises her because her sacrifice is much more than anyone else’s. Implicitly she, like Elijah’s widow friend, has abandoned herself to God. Not many wealthy people do that in the gospels, and Jesus warns his disciples that consequently it’s very hard for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.
God has called all of us, rich or poor, to put our trust in him and to be saved in Jesus Christ. But trust, or faith, has to be more than an act of the intellect, more than words. In the 1st part of today’s gospel, Jesus warns us about the scribes, the theologians of his day, the men who knew all about God and his law but who did little to practice it, whose faith was centered not on God but on themselves. (Kind of reminds you of politicians talking about American ideals, vs. what they actually do, huh?)
So our faith has to lead to action, like the 2 widows sharing their meager resources, like the worker and his family taking in someone else’s children, like ordinary people taking risks because other ordinary people are in danger. We can’t say, “I’m not rich enuf,” “Let the government do it,” “So-and-so is better at it than I am.” God expects us to do our little bit in faith, whether it’s giving alms, sharing our time, offering expertise, consoling, encouraging, sharing our faith.
The one widow found deliverance because she shared her handful of flour and few ounces of oil with Elijah. The other widow won Christ’s praise for her sacrificial generosity. Remember them the next time you have the opportunity to reach out to the homeless, the hungry, the exile, the missionary, the parochial school child. The psalm said it is the Lord who secures justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry, sets captives free, protects strangers (Ps 146:7,9).  When we do the same, even according to our limited abilities and with our limited means, we are doing his work.