Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: 1st Book of Kings 17:10-16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:7-10
Second Reading: The Letter to the Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: According to St. Mark 12: 38-44
Widows hold a special place of honor in both Testaments and in the early Church. I remember from way back in my undergraduate introductory Scripture class in the fall of 1978 that the three categories of people who were singled out for special care and concern were orphans, widows and strangers. They were seen as the most vulnerable people in society and therefore the most worthy of being watched out for.
It is that context which makes today’s selections from Sacred Scripture so pointed in their message. In both the Old Testament reading and in the Gospel reading it is a widow who is the ‘hero’ of the story, and in both cases she is the one who is giving and not receiving. But it is not just that she is giving – what makes each widow so worthy of admiration and emulation is that she gave not from her surplus, but from her need.
The juxtaposition of the giver and receiver in these two readings should cause us to reflect on our own generosity. If a billionaire gives away a million dollars she or he will be feted as a great and generous humanitarian. She or he will also now have to live off a paltry $999,000,000. To put the billionaire’s situation in terms we can better wrap our heads around, if I had $1,000 in the bank and I lost a $1 bill out of my pocket I might be upset at losing $1, but the concern for the $1 is fairly fleeting and a sense of “oh, well, that’s life” will probably set in pretty soon. This is proportionately the exact same situation as the billionaire dropping one million dollars out of his pocket. “Oh, well, that’s life.”
That is why Jesus, as He watches the wealthy put their money into the Temple treasury, never makes a comment until He notices the donation of the widow. When the well-off make their donations from the “oh, well, that’s life” portion of their wealth Jesus is not in the least impressed. He only calls the disciples over to notice the poor widow because with her two coins she “put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.”
Jesus goes on to say that she has “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood,” and this should give us pause. If we want to impress Jesus and not those who will pat us on the back for being “generous” then we need to adjust our sense of what is impressive.
As we approach the end of the liturgical year we are given readings that focus on the end of time – both for each individual soul and for all of creation, readings that are often called “apocalyptic.” The word apocalypse literally means “to reveal” (as in the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse). In these last days before the end of the Church year Jesus is revealing some very important things to us – things that matter when it comes to our own personal salvation.
Each of these readings is meant to do for us what Jesus did for His disciples – to call our attention to what really matters. In the end, what Jesus wants from us is not our money. He will certainly accept it on behalf of those who are in need, but that is not the main point. What He really wants is what the widow gave – all that she had. To give all that one has is to give out of love, and like the flour and the oil from the first reading about Elijah, the jar of love will never go empty and the jug of love will never run dry.