Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:41-44
We come to the last Sundays of this Liturgical Year. The readings we are given to hear today are full of reflection on who God is and who we are. God is and remains a saving God! And we are reminded of our vulnerability, and called to give of ourselves from that vulnerable place instead of "at the top of our game."
The experience of vulnerability is difficult for us, especially in first-world North America. Our very culture encourages us to be strong, independent, always in control, and nearly IN-vulnerable. The pain we experience in natural disaster is heightened by this reality. We are reminded of this as we see the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, particularly, though not only, in the Northeast. Even the strongest and tallest of trees being uprooted uproots something of our own stability. Accidents that result in broken bones, diagnosis of disease, and the effects of aging also leave us feeling vulnerable and helpless as we seek to return to life as we knew it before the accident, the diagnosis, or the passing of years.
In the first reading and in the Gospel, we hear stories of widows. Here I will borrow from a reflection by Marianne Race, CSJ, found in GIVE US THIS DAY published by The Liturgical Press.
The loss of a beloved spouse brings profound and radical change to the life of the surviving partner. Every routine of daily life must be altered. The ease of taken-for-granted companionship is missing. For a woman, especially in the setting of the Old Testament social culture, the loss of a male protector is also the loss of economic and legal support. How does one survive in this vulnerable state?
The widow of Zarephath is in a desperate state: she has reached the end of her resources, telling Elijah that she is about to prepare her last meal and then die. Her jug of oil and jar of flour are both literally and figuratively empty. She trusts Elijah's promise that giving what little she has to him will bring her new life and continuous sustenance. Despite being out of material resources, this vulnerable woman responds to a glimmer of hope and is blessed for it.
In Mark's Gospel, Jesus chides the Scribes for "devouring the houses of widows" - taking advantage of the poor. Then, Jesus observes a widow putting "all she had" into the treasury in the temple. What great dignity she has; her poverty has not diminished her generosity. The experience of having nothing brings out magnanimous compassion. Jesus holds this widow up as a model of faith and trust in God.
One of our Sisters worked in Athens, Ohio, not at the University there, but among the Appalachian poor. She often mentioned the great generosity of the poor to one another. She said: "If they have one dollar in their pocket and see someone who needs it more, there is no hesitation to give that dollar away."
We may or may not identify with the widows we hear of in the readings today, but all of us can identify with vulnerability. I suspect that our most common response to vulnerability is to avoid it at all costs. And yet, we can take hope in the image of our God who saves. This God is also reflected in the readings for this Sunday.
When Elijah meets the widow of Zarephath, he says to her: "Do not be afraid. " The God-who-saves will not allow the jar of flour to go empty nor the jug of oil run dry. It is in vulnerability that we are given cause to rely on God, to trust in God's promise.
In the Gospel, the poor widow is acclaimed by Jesus: "This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors. For they have contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." In God's eyes, her generosity is accepted for all that it means.
On this Sunday, in these readings, let us reflect on how and when we have felt vulnerable, and how we have responded. May we place all our trust in God, who saves.
Sallie Latkovich, CSJ, Director of Bible Study and Travel, Director of the Summer Institute, and Adjunct Professor
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