June 9, 2013 Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 17:17-24/90, Psalm 30:2-13, Galatians 1:11-19, Luke 7:11-17
One of the prominent themes in Catholic Social Teaching is the preferential option for the poor. The readings we are given to hear on this Sunday reveal God's own care for the poor, in the story of two widows, one in the reading from 1 Kings and one in the Gospel from Luke. These women certainly are among the poor.
"Is there anything more pitiable than a woman burying her child? I've known young women whose babies were miscarried before they were born or perished of childhood illnesses or accidents; middle-aged mothers who lost their children in war; old women whose sons died of AIDS or cancer; women whose children took their own lives, were murdered, or were put to death by capital punishment. . ." --Alice Camille in "The Nain Event", US Catholic June 2013
The status of the widow in ancient Israelite society was precarious at best. Having no inheritance rights and in need of life's necessities, she was often exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation. Widowhood was perceived by some to be a disgrace, as death before old age was viewed as a judgment of sin. Thus, the reproach extended to the surviving spouse, the widow. A woman's very life was dependent on her father or husband, and as a widow, upon her son. Thus, the widow of the Scriptures was particularly vulnerable and poor in every way.
In the first reading, Elijah is staying with the widow of Zarephath of Sidon, whose son stops breathing. She reacts in anger, supposing that Elijah caused his death, calling attention to her guilt. (that is, the guilt caused by an early death of her spouse, supposing it to be the result of sin.) Elijah calls upon God who returns the life-breath to the son. When Elijah returns the child to his mother, she sees more than her son-she sees that Elijah is a man of God.
In the Gospel, Jesus journeys to Nain, and encounters the funeral cortege of a man who is the only son of a widow. As in the Elijah story, Jesus calls the son back to life and gives him to his mother. And, the whole crowd glorified God, seeing Jesus as a prophet in their midst, and proclaiming that "God has visited his people."
As these sons are raised up, so are their mothers. These poor women, in their grief, are given "preferential" treatment; it seems that both Elijah and Jesus are moved by the woman's suffering, pay attention, and tend to the most imminent need: the restoration of life to their sons. They must have been grateful, but the authors of both texts directs our attention to the saving action of God.
Several reflective questions flow from these readings: Who are the widows in our lives, in our world? As we observe suffering in another or others, what moves us? Can we be honest enough to admit our own pain of loss, our own suffering? Do we care enough to look beyond another's anger or hardness of heart to see the deeper pain they are experiencing? How do we respond to relieve the suffering of others? What do we really do? Do we always give the praise to God, for whatever good is accomplished?
In first world North America, it takes great intention and effort to make the preferential option for the poor. That is exactly what we are called to do by the Gospel, and by Catholic Social Teaching. May our reflection with the widows of today's readings rekindle our desire and effort on behalf of the poor, wherever and however we encounter them.
Sallie Latkovich, C.S.J.
Director, Bible Study and Travel Program
Director, Summer Institute
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