For the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, our first reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) and Gospel passage (Mark 12:38-44) force us to determine the degree of genuine dependency that we have on God. In other words, they show which concrete facts prove or discredit our claim of trusting in God with our very life, with our whole life, in all its facets. Extreme cases are offered for our consideration so that we are denied any wiggling room and any rationalization to claim that our dependency on God doesn’t have to be more than nominal.
“As the LORD, your God, lives,” she answered, “I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” 1 Kings 17:12
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Mark 12:43-44
A further consideration about the two extremes shows how the concrete situation of helpless poverty of two widows stems or, at least, is exacerbated by those at the opposite extreme.
In the case of the widow of Zarephath, the opposite extreme was King Ahab who, after marrying Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon, had become unfaithful to Yahweh God and was allowing worship also of the false gods of the Sidonians. That disloyalty to God had prompted a most severe drought and subsequent famine over all the land of Israel.
In the case of the widow in our Gospel narrative, the opposite extreme was represented by the scribes. In the course of his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the house of the widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” Mark 12:38
I am not suggesting that we might be directly responsible for the plight of the most destitute among us. However, I am pointing out that the genuineness of our trust in God is expected of us regardless of where we might place ourselves between the two extremes. I am also suggesting that the less we trust in God the more we are bound to look for security and peace of mind elsewhere.
Through our readings, we are urged to realize that the degree of trust that we put outside of God exposes us to possible bitter disappointments, restlessness, anxieties and even tragic outcomes. Further, we should consider that the process we might choose to find security and peace of mind apart from God could set us down the path of unintentional exploitation of the weakest elements of our society. Our exterior devotion, our piety, our church attendance can coexist with a type of man-made security which is a mix of faith in God and secular, merely human expedients.
All this doesn’t mean that we should not rely on insurance companies for emergencies and restoration of what we might lose. However, we are expected to be constantly convinced that God alone can give us true serenity and peace of mind of the type that makes our life productive and enjoyable. Insurance companies can ensure nothing beyond our material possessions. Life insurance benefits not us but those whom we leave behind in death.
We can recite our responsorial Psalm (146:7-10) as much as we want.
The LORD secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free; the LORD gives sight to the blind. The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD protects the stranger, sustains the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked. The LORD shall reign forever, your God, Zion, through all generations!!
What truly benefits us would be living by it viscerally. Genuine dependency on God cannot be faked, for it is always totally evident only to Him. We can only fool ourselves partially and those around us for a while longer. The widow of Zarephath could have kept the last handful of flour and the last drops of oil for herself and her child; the widow of the gospel could have dropped into the Temple treasury just one of her two little coins.
Regardless of our status within the two extremes, the place of our encounter with the Lord is not something that can be measured by an accountant or even secured by our actions. That place is always a heart that is truly poor, i.e. completely open to God and attentive to any entreaty from the Lord.
Our effort to secure for ourselves lasting serenity and peace of mind should lead us to abandon ourselves habitually, completely and trustingly into the Lord’s hands, and to do anything to remain among the little, defenseless, lowly people whom he favors.