The Scriptures for this 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time present us with the stories of two different widows. In order to understand these stories, it is important that we understand the reality of a widow’s life in Israel at the time these stories were first written. First of all, the word “widow” in Hebrew means “silent” or “voiceless” one. In other words, she is without an advocate, no one to help her. Women did not inherit their husband’s goods when he died. If she did not have an adult son, a widow would be left without any resources. Both of the widows in today’s Scriptures have almost nothing, and they have no one to turn to in their need.
The first story is a “promise-fulfillment” story from the First Book of Kings. There are 45 such stories in the Book of Kings featuring the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The theme behind these stories is quite simple: if God is faithful in small things such as the promise that Elijah makes to the widow, then God will undoubtedly be faithful in larger matters.
This is also a “hospitality” story. Hospitality was one of the qualities of Hebrew life. Everyone was aware of the fact that one day they might need help. So when a traveler asked for help, it was usually given without question. However, usually a traveler would make the request of the village elder or of the leader of the clan. Elijah approaches a poor widow instead. Because she shares the little she has, Elijah promises her that she will never run out of flour and oil. She and her son welcome Elijah into their home and feed him with the little they have. Because they are generous to Elijah, God is generous to them.
The second widow is also very poor. Jesus is teaching in the Temple precincts and has just criticized the scribes for being concerned with outward shows of honor. Just as he makes this criticism, the widow appears and places her small offering in the Temple treasury. At first it looks like Jesus is praising her for her offering; however, he is not so much praising her as he is lamenting the fact that the scribes have created this situation by their conduct and their teachings. Rather than being generous to the poor, they have taken their resources to make themselves look good in the eyes of the people.
Widows are mentioned one other time in the Scriptures today. Psalm 146 is our responsorial psalm today, a psalm that praises God for his care for the poor, especially the widows and orphans. In fact, careful reading of the Torah will reveal that God has enjoined the children of Israel to be especially mindful of the widows and orphans. This aspect of the Law, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears, at least in the case of the two widows we hear of today.
Once again, let us remember that the word widow means “the voiceless one.” They have no one to speak for them. Psalm 146 reminds us that God cares for them, that God loves them. In fact, Psalm 146 tells us very plainly that God’s care of the poor and defenseless ones of our world is a reminder that we too are to be generous in our care of them. So one question we can ask of ourselves today is whether we have been generous to the voiceless people of our culture and our society.
However, there is an even more important question. We are gathered here around the table of the Lord to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. God has been so generous to us in sharing this gift with us over and over again. This gift is greater than any other gift we might have received from God. God literally shares his life with us through the consecrated bread and wine of the altar. If we accept this gift, we must also accept the responsibility that comes with it to share our gifts with the poor. If God is so generous with us, then we must be generous with others. Otherwise we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus unworthily. As we prepare ourselves for this Eucharistic feast, let us be mindful of the voiceless ones of our society. Let us remember that it is in giving that we receive.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator