A TALE OF FOUR GIVERS: A HOMILY ON THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B
When we look at our readings of today, we will be tempted to speak of the generosity of two women, namely, the widow in the first reading and the widow in the gospel. The story in the first reading and that of the gospel are very well known because preachers usually wont miss the opportunity to use them to ask people to go empty their bank accounts and give the money to them. But one thing we miss is that both in the first reading and the gospel, there are two givers each. The second reading helps us to see this clearly.
FIRST GIVER: ELIJAH
Usually, it is important to know what happened before and after a reading. That helps us to understand the context of the reading. Before our first reading of today, the kingdom of Israel, particularly the northern kingdom had suffered a long history of evil kings, thanks to Solomon who married many pagan women and by so doing introduced the worship of other gods in Israel. Ahab had married Jezebel. Jezebel was a worshiper of Baal, who among other titles is the god of dew and rain. God then raised Elijah the prophet, who declared drought in the land, making a mockery of Baal. The result is that Elijah’s life is now being sought after and God asked him to escape into the Wadi Cherith. God took care of him there by making him drink from the stream as well as being fed by ravens. Imagine Elijah being fed mouth to mouth by ravens. This is a man who has lost everything for love of God. In a sense he has sacrificed his life to be a prophet. To make matters worse the waters became dry, thanks to Elijah himself who declared drought in the land. It is in this condition that Elijah was ordered to go to Zarephat.
SECOND GIVER: WIDOW OF ZAREPHAT
First reading 1 King 17 : 10 -16 In those days : Elijah (the prophet) arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar , and a little oil in a pitcher; and now, I am gathering a couple of sticks , that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat, and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel , ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the pitcher of oil shall not fail, until the day that he Lord sends rain upon the earth.” And she went and did as Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the pitcher of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke by Elijah.: Elijah did not just rock up from nowhere and start asking a poor widow to give him the very last food she had at home. Elijah had been in a worse condition than this woman. So, his prophesy to this widow is not unfounded. He has gone through the experience of total purgation, of giving everything away. So, he is in a better position to ask the same of this widow. Notice that Elijah told the woman that he wants food from her hand. Yes, he had been fed the whole time from the mouth of ravens. It has been a very long time he was fed by a human hand. So, when someone is going on about asking people to be like this widow, is he/she like Elijah?
Elijah did not ask this woman to do what he himself is not prepared to do. Elijah is not like a sign post who direct people to a place, but never goes there itself. One rule I have given myself as a formator is never to ask the students to do anything which I am not prepared to do myself, or which I have never tried to do. Usually when people go on and on about this passage, it is done in a context where one person’s greed must be fed by another person’s generousity.
This woman was a woman of faith, in a God she does not know. She was a Gentile, but her faith was strengthened not just by what Elijah said, but by the witness of Elijah’s life. In Elijah, she saw a man who had lost everything for love of God. Elijah was not just a preacher, but a witness. The world is tired of preachers. The world is in need of witnesses. Sometimes we talk to people about the value of giving by using examples of givers who are far away. They would always tell you about someone they met somewhere who gave everything he had and what great things happened to him after that. Well, there would be no need to use unfounded examples, when in your life, you are a true example.
THIRD GIVER: THE POOR WIDOW
Gospel: Mark 12: 38 -44 At that time: In his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greatest condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money in the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “ Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance ; but she out of poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.: Jesus makes a contrast between the scribes and pharisees and the poor widow. The scribes and farisees, like many preachers today believe in wearing long robes and being greated according to all kinds of titles, and being guests of honours at feasts and going into long prayers full of abrakatabras, but they are not witnesses, but pretenders. Jesus condemns them for taking advantage of poor widows. But Jesus praises the generosity of this poor widow who gives everything she has. Others were giving out of their abundance, but this woman, like Elijah, and like the widow of Zarephat, had reached the lowest point of her life and is prepared to give everything to God. So, the blessed one is not the one who gives a lot, but the one who gives everything. But, does Jesus have any right to say what he is saying?
FOURTH GIVER: JESUS CHRIST
Second : Hebrew 9 : 24 -28 Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf . Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgement , so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.: God the Father, like we are told in John 3:16, so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. We are told in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that, in giving us His only Son, God gave us everything He has. The only begotten Son, in turn took away our sins, not by making some useless incantations, but by making a sacrifice of Himself. He offered Himself once and for all. Jesus admires the poor widow in the gospel, because He sees in her an imperfect example of the perfect sacrifice He will make to save us. Jesus is not praising this woman for doing something which He Himself is not prepared to do. He had given up His divinity and taken the form of a servant. He is the greatest of all givers, and even that is an understatement.
The letter to the Hebrews, speak of the personality of Christ as the High Priest. We believe that through our baptism, we also share in the priesthood, prophethood and kingship of Jesus Christ. Therefore, every baptised person is a priest and it is in the nature of a priest to offer sacrifices. Therefore, through our baptisms, we are all called to give everything, including our very lives. That is why during baptism we go down into the water and come up again, as a symbol of death and resurection. Also, those who are ordained as Catholic priests are ordained into the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ. On the day of ordination, we would usually lay prostrate, a symbol of total surrender and total giving away of one’s life. The consequence is that the priest should live a completely chaste life, a very simple lifestyle and in total obedience to the authority of the church. He lies on the same spot where dead bodies lie during a fueral. In a sense, his ordination is his funeral. His life should be a symbol of total surrender to God. In his life, people should see a man who has given away everything and does not have an inordinate desire towards the things he claims to have given away. His life should teach people that heaven is for those who have given away all they have.
He teaches them that in order to go to heaven, they must first die. He teaches them that for everything you give away, you gain something greater. He teaches them that only those who are as empty as a baloon can float to heaven. He teaches them that sacrifice strips us of everything we consider important and leaves us with what is most important, namely, God. When people see a priest, they should see a man who has given away everything, yet, is very happy. They should see in him another Christ. They should see someone who is not physically dead, but is already in heaven. Then, they will be convinced to do the same.
People, especially the rich are usually afraid of giving, because they think they will end up with nothing. Elijah says to this woman ‘Do not be afraid’. One day I went to do something called ‘the slide of courage’. It is a long slide that throws you down a water path. The first question I asked before doing it is ‘Has anybody ever died doing this?’ to which I was told ‘No’. With this answer, my fear was reduced drastically. People are afraid of giving. So, they need to see someone who has given and still is very happy. Elijah took the medicine before selling it to the widow. Jesus did the same. So, Do not go to the widow of Zerephat to ask for her last meal, if you have not been fed by ravens.
I am Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro, CSsR. I am your fellow child of God and this is my way of sharing my daily reflections with you. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question. Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord.
View all posts by Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro CSsR