Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 11, 2018)
Today’s scripture readings feature two widows. Both are non-Christian. Both were insignificant because they have three strikes against them: they are women; they are poor; they have no man to protect them. Both get help from above. Both became very significant. Both have something to say to us.
There is first the widow who shows hospitality to a stranger who is actually the Jewish prophet, Elijah. She receives an unexpected reward during a famine: her food jar and jug remain with food enough for all three for the next year.
In the gospel, Jesus is sitting opposite beautiful gate in the temple courtyard, perhaps resting after his recent encounter in the court of the gentiles.
Jesus watches the people giving to the treasury of the temple. This support of the priests and temple ministries was a required and meaningful participation in the religious life of Israel.
The wealthy gave large sums of money. They were richly blessed. Jesus was pleased to see them do so. Then, a Jewish widow walks up to one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped collection containers in the court of women. She puts in two leptons, the smallest of all coins. Significant! She does not keep one for herself; she threw in both.
When she threw in her coins, they must have seemed like a small gift to anyone who was watching. But, she gave everything - even her security. She had somewhere learned that the experience of the goodness and the generosity of God make our goodness and generosity possible. She trusts her tradition and offers all - placing herself in God’s mercy.
Jesus, seeing her, must have been brought to his feet with excitement. He praises her -- and brings me to shame every time I hear this story
God’s criterion for generosity differs from the world’s, as we learn in today’s readings. God wants more than our money. God wants our hearts. Our giving is motivitated by gratitude to God for what we have; recognition of the fact that all things really belong to God, and realization that giving is the living out of love.
God is not primarily interested in the amount we give to support his work. God is interested in the priority of our giving. Do we give to god the first fruits of our abundance, or do we give god only what is left after we have taken good care of ourselves? Giving first to him recognizes that we also trust him to provide for our needs.
God has good ears. He does not hear the sound of paper in the giving as loudly as he hears the paper that still rustles in our wallets.
Here are the stories of two widows - both willing to give everything and live in hope for what may come. This is possible only for folks who deeply appreciate god’s goodness and love for us.
Probably, the generous widows in today’s readings began with small acts of generosity. The act of generosity is the seed that produces the fruit, the virtue of generosity. Our Lord applauds generosity and their stories are retold two thousand years later.
The widow foreshadows Jesus’ self-giving at a most timely moment. She offered him encouragement as he approached the offering of his own life on the cross within that very week.