Reflection on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 17:10-16 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:41-44
Widows are the heroines of today’s readings. That’s an odd reversal of scriptural stereotypes. Widows are poor and rarely noticed except during days of jubilee, when the righteous are exhorted to remember the widows and the orphans. Or as in today’s Gospel, when Jesus calls out the hypocritical who parade their holiness while preying on defenseless widows. Poor and powerless, widows are not very likely heroines, yet the two widows in today’s readings give us powerful examples of spiritual action.
In the first reading we have a widow with an orphan, and a prophet who insists that the widow provide for him. “Bring me some bread and water,” he says; “Do it before you take care of yourself and your child.” And she does as he says, scraping the bottom of her pot to give from the little she has. Then we have the widow in Mark’s Gospel, dropping her few coins in the temple treasury. Jesus watches her from a distance and points out to his disciples how she gives much from what little she has.
This story in Mark comes immediately after the passage we heard last Sunday, in which the scribe asked Jesus which is the greatest of all commandments. Jesus answered, “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength … and love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is the command. The widows show us what love looks like in action: Give from whatever you have, whatever you are; give your whole livelihood; give all.
When the command is joined with the example of the widows, “love God with all your heart…” takes on new meaning, makes a stronger claim, reaches deeper into what is mine. I would have said, “Of course I will love God without restraint, without reservation.” But will I respond to a request that stretches me thin? Reach into my pocket or my heart and hand over the last little bit I have?
It does seem like too much; it seems so total! I’m glad to contribute, to do my part; but I stop short of giving all. I hold back a bit, give only some, or not all at once. I keep something for myself of my time, and my energy. I do my giving gradually, even reluctantly.
What do today’s readings have to say to a reluctant lover like me? What does Jesus say? Start with your poverty, not your wealth. Maybe you have a lot of stuff or a lot of time and energy, but if you are poor in willingness, start there. Trust, as the widows trusted, that your poor store will not run out if shared; willingness can stretch and increase with exercise. Give the love you can give, and love will increase. Risk action and do not be afraid. Action will strengthen love.