32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Today’s readings are an example of why it’s good to understand the historical context of Scripture. The stories may make sense to our 21st Century minds, but looking at society as it was in Biblical times gives them a little more meaning.
The first reading and the Gospel today deal with widows. It’s important to realize that widows in those times were usually in desperate straits. There was no Social Security. There was no life insurance. There were no pension plans. Unless they had a generous extended family, widows were among the poorest of the poor. Women didn’t work at paying jobs, so their prospects were very bleak. They had no hope.
Yet, here we have two widows, both being asked to give. In the first reading, not only is the main character of the story a poor widow, but at the time, around 900 BC, the Middle East was caught up in a draught and famine. Nobody had enough to eat, let alone this poor lady. But along comes Elijah the prophet asking her for water, something that was in short supply. But the widow does as Elijah asks. As she’s walking away, Elijah calls after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”
The lady explains to Elijah that she has just enough flour and oil to make one last meal for herself and her son. That’s it. That’s all there is. When they’re finished with their bread and water, they’re going to die. Imagine how hopeless she must have felt.
That’s when Elijah says something so outrageous that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. He asks her to make him a cake! Seriously! He wants a cake??? Maybe he’d like some ice cream to go with it? But, he goes on to tell the widow that if she does as he asks, “The Jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”
Sure enough, she makes Elijah his cake and she and her son have enough to eat for a year. She gave the little she had, and she was blessed in return. You know, God still works that way today. God can never be outdone in generosity. If you don’t believe me, just try it.
Now, let’s look at the Gospel. The scene is very different. Mark tells us that Jesus is speaking “to the crowds,” as opposed to the scene in the Old Testament reading where there were only two people, Elijah and the widow. A lot of people are following Jesus now. When He speaks, they listen. He’s describing those synagogue officials who like to run around in long robes, letting everyone see how important they are. He says “They devour the houses of widows, and as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
This is the flip side of the first reading’s message. The first reading tells us to give and it will be returned to us many times over. The Gospel is telling us that the men who “devour the houses of widows” will receive a “very severe condemnation.”
The story continues with one of those widows coming into the temple and giving two small coins to the treasury, all she has, her whole livelihood. Jesus tells the disciples that this poor widow has put in more than “all the other contributors to the treasury.”
So, what’s the message here? The logical answer is that here’s where I tell you how important it is to give money to the Church and to other charities. Give ‘til it hurts. Give, not from your surplus, but give all you have. That’s certainly part of it. It’s called “stewardship”. God has given us what we have and it’s up to us to give back. Like the first widow, God will give back to us in much larger measure that we give to Him. But I think the message here is bigger than that. It’s about faith.
How do we grow our faith? We grow it by sharing it with others. Our faith gets bigger when we give it away.
Last Sunday we held our Goulash Festival. It was a success. We served more dinners and made more money than ever before. But that’s not what made the event successful. What made it successful was the way you all worked together, the way you represented our faith community to our visitors. Over 400 people visited us and many of them had never been here before. They enjoyed the food, but the majority of comments we got were about the atmosphere of Saint John Nepomuk.
They were impressed with how well everyone worked together and with the friendly greeting they got from you. That’s called “evangelization” even if not a single word was spoken about Jesus, or God, or Catholicism. We grow our faith by giving it away, just like the two widows in today’s readings.
The Goulash Festival only happens once a year, but we have the chance to share our faith every single day. We don’t do it by running around in long robes or taking seats of honor in the church. We do it by the little kindnesses we do for one another every day. We do it by dishing out goulash once a year, but we also do it by welcoming visitors to our chapel at every mass.
We become disciples by making disciples, and we make disciples by giving to others. In his speech to Congress, our Holy Father summed up his whole message, and Jesus’, in one statement. Live by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.32