November 7, 2021 at St. Parishes in Naples, FL
1 Kings 17, 10-16 + Psalm 146 + Hebrews 9, 24-28 + Mark 12, 38-44
Instead of calling this the “Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time”, I think we should call it “The Sunday of the Two Widows.” There is no way get through this liturgy without them. A quick read of both stories could lead us to simply think that they are very much alike, helpless, poor, but generous. In reality, they are way more than helpless, poor, but generous. That widow of Zarephath was nothing like the widow in Mark’s Gospel. The first one offered what she had to a person in need. The second one was duped by slick pretenders who know how to bilk the innocent which is what Jesus points out by scolding the leaders of the people who run the Temple. It’s a racket still going on today when we pick up a news story about someone who bilks innocent, naïve people out of money for work they never start or finish.
Elijah is not like that. As the story goes, he was a refugee fleeing both a draught and political danger. At first it might seem odd that he would ask someone as helpless as he was. But, Elijah is a prophet in touch with God, and he holds firmly to his faith in the providence of God while the religious leaders at the time of Jesus are in touch with nothing but their own greed and ambition. Elijah and that widow from Zarephath do not even share the same religion! However, she understood that human beings are made for one another and that even hunger is easier to bear when shared. What she discovers is that by sharing with another in need, they both survive.
Lest we get all impressed by the action of the second widow, we might wonder a bit more about how and why Mark describes her as he does, and what he remembers Jesus said about her. She is not being held up as an example of charity. She is an image of Jesus himself. Like him, she gives her all whether or not it is appreciated or even noticed by those in power or those who matter. I think Jesus points her out suggesting to the disciples that God operates with a different set of values than those leaders of the people. What matters is faith, trust, and human solidarity.
In telling these stories today we might ask ourselves whose interest motivates us. We might take a second look at how our generosity really works and whether we are just giving out of our surplus, because we all have a surplus. Or, have we ever really understood and identified with people who are desperate and in need. I read recently that the poor are the most generous when it comes to responding to needs because they’ve been there or are still there having discovered that by sharing with another in need, they both survive.
We might also think more deeply about that widow in Zarephath who pays no attention at all to the fact that Elijah is a foreigner, a refugee, and even of a different religion. What matters is that he is a human being, vulnerable, frightened, and alone. So is she. When they both recognize their frailty, vulnerability, desperation, and fears, they do more than survive together, their solidarity is an unmistakable sign of how we can experience and draw them near to the reign of God.