Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Rich Gave From Their Surplus; She, From Her Poverty, Put In All She Had To Live On.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the First Book of Kings (17:10-16)

The prophet Elijah warned Ahab, the King of Israel that the LORD God was going to send no rain and no dew to Israel in the coming years until he, the prophet, gives the word. Then the LORD told him to leave his home in Gilead, and go into hiding. He stayed for some time in the ravine of Kerith, east of the Jordan, where ravens brought him bread and meat morning and evening, and he drank from the stream. When the stream dried up for lack of rain, the LORD tol him to go to Zarephath, in Sidon, which was a Gentile town.

When he came to the town gate, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he called to her and asked “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" As she was going to get it, he called, "And please bring me a piece of bread."

“As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die."

Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.' "

So she went and did as Elijah had told her. There was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.


God chose a poor widow to provide food for Elijah. Since Sidon is pagan territory, it may be that Elijah is the first prophet to the Gentiles (Luke 4:25-26). God often chooses people who seem weak and foolish to carry out his plans (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

The widow’s words to Elijah are interesting. She knows that there is a God. But she speaks to Elijah about “your God”. So she recognises that Elijah was a servant of God. However, she has a serious problem. There had been no rain for a long time. She had been unable to buy any food. So she only has enough flour and oil to make one meal. After that meal, she expected that both she and her son would die.

Elijah’s request for a loaf of bread is a test of her faith. He asks her to give him the first loaf, before she makes anything for herself or her son. Because Elijah was God’s prophet, she would be giving that loaf to God. Then Elijah gives a prophecy to the woman. God himself will provide her food until the rains came. Because she had heard God’s word, the woman believed, and she obeyed the prophet. The result was that God provided food for all of them.

God’s word never disappoints us, even in the most difficult situations. We should always obey God. He deserves the first place in our lives. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).


Today’s Second Reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28).

As the Law of the LORD directed, Moses sprinkled the tent and the vessels of divine service with blood. In fact, it might almost be said that, according to the Law, everything is cleansed by blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no atonement.

But, if these rituals cleanse the copies of heavenly things, those heavenly things themselves require better sacrifices to cleanse them. Christ did not enter a sanctuary built by human hands, a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. He did not need to enter heaven to offer himself over and over again, the way the high priest enters the Holy of Holies with blood that is not his own. If that were so, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But, as it is, he came into the world at the climax of human history to abolish sin by the sacrifice of his own life. He offered this sacrifice once and for all, and when it was accomplished, he returned to heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the Father, whence he will come again, not to bear the burden of sin, but to bring salvation to all who put their trust in him, and look forward to his coming.


Today’s Gospel is taken from Mark (12:38-44).

As he was teaching, Jesus said, "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces. They take the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour the property of widows, while making a show of long prayers for appearance’ sake. They will be punished most severely."

Jesus’ warning, “Beware of the teachers of the Law” is especially addressed to his disciples. Unless they are careful, they might imitate the attitudes and behaviors of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses. Flowing robes were the sign of an educated person who did not need to work with his hands, and who could walk slowly, with no need to hurry. The teachers dressed in flowing robes to attract attention. They liked it when people greeted them with honor. The teachers of the law enjoyed being called “Rabbi”, a word that means “My great master.” They took the front seats in the synagogue, close to the Sefer Torah, the cabinet where the scrolls of the Law are kept.

Then Jesus stood near the box where the offerings were placed, and watched the crowd putting money into the temple treasury. Many people put in large amounts, but a poor woman came and put in two small copper coins, worth a few cents. Jesus told his disciples that the widow’s gift was the most generous of all the gifts. The rich folks had given from their surplus; she, out of her poverty, put in all she has to live on.

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Just before telling us about the widow’s two coins, Mark lets us hear Jesus denouncing the teachers of the Law “who like to be seen in long robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to take the reserved seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts. They even devour the property of widows, while making a show of long prayers”. Widows were the very symbol of the helpless poor. Then when he sees this poor widow putting money (“all she has to live on”) into the Temple treasury, he denounces the practice of taking money from the poor to shore up a decaying religious institution. Her very generosity is a judgment on that institution: it shows how effortlessly successful it has been in exploiting the poor. Commentators have usually put a pious interpretation on this text, praising the widow’s generosity. It bears this interpretation, certainly, but it is her very generosity that condemns the avarice of the Temple authorities.

The scribes were religious scholars, proud of their status, dressed to be recognized. Along with the Pharisees they had contrived to impose twenty-four different kinds of Temple tax on the people, thus holding the poor in a terrible dilemma: either to go hungry or to break the law. "They devour the property of widows," Jesus said. Hidden behind the mask of suave respectability were the fangs of the predator.

This poor widow did not know that Jesus was watching her. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees she did not do things just to be seen doing them. When any virtue is deeply rooted it is unselfconscious; only superficial virtue is self-conscious. That poor widow had vastly greater depth than those scholarly scribes. Some things don’t change much from one age and society to another. St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century said that any little old lady (una vetera) may have deeper faith and wisdom than the most learned theologian of the day.

The widow's unselfconscious virtue, however, lets us see also how easy it is to exploit the poor; after a time it even seems the respectable thing to do. A South American bishop said, "When we defend the poor, Rome accuses us of meddling in politics – but never when we side with the rich." The Good News is as much news today as it was in the earliest times because the world hasn’t changed: few care about the poor, and authorities are mainly self-serving. When help comes it comes usually from unexpected quarters. But Jesus watches and sees everything. The Responsorial Psalm says, "It is the Lord who keeps faith forever, who is just to those who are oppressed." He is waiting still, and forever, for help.

Donagh O’Shea O.P.

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