32nd Sunday in OT / B / 2018
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Our readings today feature two widows—two widows who teach us a few valuable lessons in the spiritual life. And I’ll tell you one of them now, so you can think about it as we go through these stories. And the lesson is this: to give is to receive; and to receive everything, you must give everything. A basic principle of the spiritual life.
All of us make the mistake that "hoarding things" (power, power, money, honors) will make us happy—they do just the opposite. Remember Jesus, who, though in the form of God, did not deem equality with God as grasping; rather, he emptied himself. And God raised him up.
Okay. So let’s look at our widows, one in the first reading and one in the Gospel. Widows are often mentioned in the Bible because in ancient times they were considered among the most vulnerable persons in society.
Why is that? Because in the ancient near east, a widow had no inheritance. If her husband died, she had nothing. She had to rely on her children, if she had any, or other male relatives. There were no social service agencies at this time! Along with orphans, widows were considered "the least ones" in society. And because of that, they had a very special place in the heart of God.
Including this widow of Zarephath in the first reading. The context of our reading is the 9th century before Christ. There was a severe famine in the land—seen as a punishment from God for idol worship on the part of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel.
Our widow and her son are in a pretty desperate situation. With a famine in the land, no money, no support, and literally down to their last meal. But at this moment of need, who appears? The prophet Elijah. When all seems lost, divine providence arrives.
And here we learn another lesson in the spiritual life: God often comes into our lives when we are most vulnerable and desperate. Why? Because there is room for God. When things are going well, when the ego is inflated, when we are bloated with pleasures and honors—there isn’t much room for God. "Blessed are the poor," the Beatitudes tell us.
And so our widow hears Elijah: "Give me something to drink"; and then, almost as an afterthought, "and bring along a bit of bread." A bit of bread? In this desperate situation? It’s almost comical! Shouldn’t the prophet be giving HER something?
But this is the important lesson of the reading: to give is to receive. When the widow shares her little bit of food, she receives a superabundance. For the next year, "the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry."
The widow in the Gospel finds herself in a similar situation. Jesus points out the scribes and the rich. They are soaking in the greetings, the respect, the honor—becoming bloated with praise. Will it satisfy? No. They’ll just want more. Will they hear the voice of God? No. There is no room for God in this bloated place.
But the widow . . . who gives out of her poverty. We don’t know what becomes of her, but the Biblical principle certainly applies: to give everything is to receive everything.
A couple conclusions from these stories: 1) if you want your life to increase, give it away. 2) If you want your faith to increase, give it away. 3) If you want your joy to increase, give it away. 4) If you want your love to increase, give it away. 5) When you have nothing, give it away.
And if you do, "the jar shall not go empty, nor the jug run dray."