Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 8, 2015
This Sunday’s Gospel has a nickname. It is frequently referred to as: “The Widow’s Mite.” Even people who are totally unschooled in the Gospels are likely to recognize the story reported by both Mark and Luke by just hearing this unofficial title. And, if asked, they would probably say that it is a story about being charitable…generous…giving. In fact, when depicted in art or illustrated in a Bible Story book, “the mite” or the coin which the poor woman gave is the focal point, implying that it was her donation which prompted Jesus to point her out to His disciples. Actually, many preachers and pastors who are or should be well educated in the Gospels have used the story of “The Widow’s Mite” in order to encourage more generous giving from their congregation; this, in spite of the fact that Jesus seems to have directed attention to her as a way of illustrating the much less worthy actions, motives, and donations of some very privileged people.
By choosing to pair “The Widow’s Mite” with the First Reading from the Book of Kings, the Church is enabling and inviting us to look past the coin in her hand to what was in the woman’s mind and heart. We actually have a little more detail about the Old Testament widow, the suggestion being that we shift attention from “the gift” and focus more on “the giver.”
We know the name of the village where she lived with her son. We are able to appreciate just how desperate her situation was. When Elijah the Prophet encounters her, she is gathering kindling for the fire on which she will prepare the very meager meal for her child and herself that she recognizes might be their “last supper” before succumbing to starvation. We can sense her desperation and feel the hunger pains and the fatigue that have sapped her strength. More significant, we can feel the pain in her heart as she looks at her little son. We are shocked by what is being asked of her and even more stunned that she complies. She literally takes food from her starving child’s mouth to feed a stranger. Her act is on par with that of Abraham as he stood on a mountaintop, preparing to sacrifice his son. Clearly, she is motivated by something more intense than a generous spirit or the sense of hospitality.
There are no details offered about the New Testament widow who caught Jesus’s attention. But when her story is placed next to that of the widow of Zarephath, it certainly seems that the lesson to be learned goes well beyond the call to be generous and hospitable. These two women have been remembered for thousands of years for their gifts, but what is truly iconic about them is their trust in God.
Both recognized that God is “The Ultimate Giver” and that all things come from and belong to God. Like Abraham, both demonstrated unshakeable trust in God’s goodness and love. Both gave…not from their surplus…but from what little they had which separated them from certain disaster.
Our Second Reading, (Hebrews 9:24-28), which links the stories of the Old and New Testament widows, serves to direct our attention away from the gift and towards the giver. There, we find a brief reference to the Lord’s ultimate sacrifice on The Cross, made possible by Jesus’s unshakable trust in The Father’s goodness and love.
While the generosity of both women is to be admired, what is truly iconic is the strength of their faith, and their rock solid trust in God. When coupled together, a new name might fit both stories: The Widow’s Might! Both are remembered for mighty deeds, but it was their “mighty” trust in God that was the source of their strength and courage.