Bulletin: November 7, 2021
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
This year, it seems the Lectionary’s scriptures not only reinforce the Catholic tradition of November prayer for our beloved departed, but also join with nature’s storms and the pandemic as well as humanity’s violent disasters to remind us that we are moving inexorably toward the end of history, both the world’s and our own. Today’s Old Testament reading prepares us for a fruitful hearing of the Gospel. The primary challenge set before us is an undoubted faith that prompts the total giving of self. That lesson is offered to us with an urgency matching November’s eschatological motif: the End and the Judgment. Two widows are presented, the Old Testament’s widow of Zarephath and the Gospel’s widow of the temple. Both exemplify faith-filled people who quietly give what they cannot afford: their all, for the glory of God and in the service of others.
GREAT FAITH IS DEMANDED
We quickly come to admire the Old Testament widow whom Elijah asks for help. The Zarephath widow is carrying only “a couple of sticks,” to cook her limited resources, “a handful of flour and a little oil,” fulfilling her personal responsibility, “for myself and my son” (1 Kings 17:12). Elijah’s request demands great faith and self-sacrifice of this poor widow, because providing such life-sustaining care to a “foreign” prophet puts the widow’s survival and her son’s at great risk: her religion is worshipping paganism’s false idol, Baal; her king is father of Jezebel, now wife of Elijah’s king Ahab. Elijah is fleeing the death-threatening wrath of both Jezebel and Ahab, whom Elijah infuriated by declaring that God had decreed a drought to punish them for corrupting Israel with Jezebel’s Baal-worship. Elijah makes the widow’s risk explicit by promising that her flour and oil will not fail by power of “the Lord, the God of Israel (not her god, Baal!)” (17:14). Therefore, faith is demanded both of the one who gives, the widow, and of the one who asks, Elijah.
Today’s Gospel episode takes place just after Jesus enters Jerusalem immediately before his Passion. Trustfully and with self-sacrifice, like Zarephath’s widow and the widow whom Jesus sees at the temple, Jesus will give his all for our redemption. Thus Jesus emphasizes of the widow he sees that her gift is unreserved: “from her poverty, all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:44). And, doubtlessly, Jesus saw himself and his self-giving in her and her self-giving. In Mark’s next chapter Jesus predicts the downfall of this very temple. So the widow’s unreserved giving from what she could not afford must have struck Jesus both as a victimization by others and, in the end, as a useless gift: the building controlled by the scribes’ manipulation was destined for destruction. Her giving became a vivid prefiguring of his own victimization by others in the unreserved giving of his very life, which would seem to many a useless gift, for Jesus would die and be buried. Only Jesus’ true disciples—are we?—believe that, by his resurrection, Jesus has become the Cornerstone of the new building, the Church, that replaces that torn-down temple. Therefore, we are to make our own gift of self to God in our unceasing gift of self-sacrificing love to others until Jesus comes again.