The Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2018 – Cycle B
1 Kings: 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
Becoming widowed happens in a quiet moment with last breath of a spouse. And their whole world changes. Men and women who are widowed, like single people, can become invisible to us so disposed is our society toward couples.
Yet the scriptures are filled with widows. I wonder, who was first widowed, Eve or Adam? Abraham was widowed, as Genesis relates the story of him purchasing a burial place and performing the customary mourning rites for his wife, Sarah. The brief and gentle Book of Ruth relates the story of three widows, Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. Did you ever consider that the Virgin Mary becomes a presumed widow as Joseph drops out of the story by the end of Christmas? A single mother raising a boy in a homeland marked by Roman oppression. Is that why from the cross Jesus gives his mother into the care of John, the beloved disciple? And the psalms and prophets are replete with references to the orphan and widow.
The scriptures passages today are noticeably marked by widows. Widows are poor and in need. They daily face the possibility of death. Without a relationship to a father or husband in this culture, these women and their children are left insecure and unprotected.
The widow of Zarephath and her community are also suffering from a prolonged drought and she and her son with die after they offer the required hospitality to the prophet Elijah. The widow in the Temple court gives “all she had” and so her poverty and dependence on others will intensify. Who are these widows that Jesus refers to as having their houses devoured? Are they neighbors in Nazareth and Capernaum? Certain people have always taken advantage of the less fortunate, the less educated, and the poor.
Consider how much Jesus has in common with these widowed women?
Like these widows he comes to have no status in society. He is arrested and through brutal torture he is dehumanized to being a non – person. In his thirst, he is needy as he requests a drink hanging from the cross. Stripped naked, he is in want of human dignity. Praying for the cup to pass, isn’t Jesus really praying to be released from his fears? As he cries out and questions God’s abandonment of him, is Jesus not seeking hope? And does not Jesus, like the widows, face death with a certain resignation?
The yearning to be an acknowledged presence and not invisible to other people; to be treated with human dignity and not as a non – person; to be filled with hope by being released from our fears; is this not what so many of us are also seeking?
It would seem to me these stories are more than just about Middle Eastern hospitality or generosity.
The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) states:
“The Church is called to be a sign in and for the world…[by] healing and reconciling and binding up wounds…ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless,…engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice,…giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer… The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing [her] life.”
Like so many widows throughout human history to the present they gave from their substance for others. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, mother of five children went on to educate the poor as the founder of the Sisters of Charity. Frances of Rome, a noblewoman and mother who gathered women to care for the poorest of the poor. Rita of Cascia, who lived with a brutal husband who was violently murdered, spent 40 years as a widow in the service of the sick, the poor and those in desperate situations. Hedwig, duchess of Silesia, mother of seven was dedicated to the poor and prisoners. Elizabeth of Hungary, mother of three was dedicated to the poor and sick.
“The Church is called to be a sign…[by] healing and reconciling and binding up wounds…ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless,… even at the risk of losing [her] life.”
So many people, parents, spouses, the single give from their substance, not by monetary means, but through worry, time, sleepless nights, hours of prayer, care for others to the detriment of their own health, and extreme fatigue. They – you – like the widows so often give of their whole life. As Jesus gives over everything as eternal high priest like a widow, is this the calling he lifts up for the entire church “even at the risk of losing [her] life.”?