18 November 2009

God is a Widow

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 8 November 2009

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Ps 146:7,8-9,9-10; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44

A widow is featured in both the First and Gospel Readings this Sunday. In the Book of Kings we hear the story of Elijah and the widow in the city of Zarepath. In the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus' praise of a widow and her humble offering.

Widows are not the most fortunate of people, then and now. The grief of losing a husband is not the only issue they have to deal with. In the world of both the Old and New Testaments, they are the poorest of the poor, especially if no one takes the place of the deceased husband and there are young children to raise. In the Acts of the Apostles, the early Church made it a point to take care of widows and orphans.

That is why when the widow in Zarepath took the risk of providing for the needs of the prophet Elijah, and the widow in the Gospel account dropped her two small coins into the collection box, they were making no small gestures. They sacrificed not just their meal for the day but all "(they) had, (their) whole livelihood".

What do their stories tell us? I would like to answer the question first by way of another story...

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. "I've been thinking," He said, "I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious: Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone."

1. The widows in the two readings present an image of the true disciple.

The Gospel widow's faith in God's providence is placed in stark contrast with that of the scribes - pretentious, hypocritical and exploitative. The Zarepath widow's hospitality restored the wavering faith of the prophet Elijah. When Jesus pointed out the witness of the widow to his disciples, He was giving them a lesson in discipleship.

2. The widow in the Gospel represents Christ.

The text of the Letter to the Hebrews in the Second Reading refer to Jesus as the high priest who made Himself the sacrifice for our sins. The total trust and self-giving of the widow in the Gospel account prefigured Jesus' act of total surrender and self-giving. When Jesus pointed out the witness of the widow to his disciples, how "from her poverty, (she) has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood" (Mk 12,44), He was in effect pointing His disciples to Himself and to the total sacrifice he would be making.

3. The widow in the Gospel represents the Father.

Her giving of her most cherished possession, also points to the very witness of the Father who gave the world His only-begotten Son for humankind's salvation.

The widow in Zarepath, who was gathering firewood to cook what most likely would have been her and her son's last meal, was also saved by her hospitality for a miracle happened through the prophet Elijah. "She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry" (1 Kgs 17,16).

In the end, God has revealed Himself as the God who cannot be outdone in generosity.

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