32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
This morning’s Gospel about the poor widow is told in St Luke as well as in St Mark, and in both cases it is preceded by Jesus’ denunciation of certain ways of behaving. That seems to indicate that the tradition as we have it now saw a connection between the two parts of this morning’s Gospel.
In the first part, Jesus says to beware of people who like to go around and be treated with deference by those who pass by. They have a high standing in their social group, and they expect to be listened to, whether at banquets or whenever they speak. They may be sincerely religious people, as the scribes could be, but they do not listen to the widows whose property they devour. They see that they can make a religious case against the widows’ holding on to their property, and they make no attempt to see it from the widows’ point of view. What comes across is contempt for widows for being attached to their few possessions, while the scribes themselves are always on the lookout for more possessions. Jesus tells us, “They will receive a very severe condemnation”, while the psalmist adds, “The Lord upholds the widow and orphan.
By way of contrast, the second part of this morning’s Gospel presents a widow’s point of view, not by what she says but by what she does. It seems to follow directly after the first part, because it begins, “Jesus sat down opposite the treasury”, apparently after denouncing the scribes on the same occasion. The scribes may have been on the watch to see if they could catch the widows out in some religious offense so that they could have an excuse to complain to the religious authorities and then swallow up some property. Well then, Jesus would sit down and do some watching of his own. Some of the scribes were rich as well as religious, and they put a great deal of money into the treasury. They would not be above getting angry with someone who showed contempt for the House of God by putting in a laughably small amount.
But the Lord searches the heart. The scribes were looking only at appearances. Jesus saw that rich people were putting in large sums because they could afford to, but the poor widow, from the little she had, put in all she had to live on. She could not have guessed that she was the one person among all those influential people who really interested the Lord. So it is the Lord who sees us in our least conscious and most private moments, and it is he who will be our judge, not those who see only appearances and then rush to judgment.
Such people could even profess to be disedified by the widow in the first reading. She was apparently religious, since her first words are, “As the Lord your God lives”. To those who go by appearances, she had only enough for one last meal for herself and her son, and her duty was to nourish the little life that was left, not give away her last food to this hairy prophet with enough strength to travel around looking for someone to feed him. But here again, the Lord searches the heart. He saw that this Sidonian woman believed that the Lord, the God of Elijah, lives, and since Elijah was his Prophet, she would do as Elijah said and feed him first, regardless of what other people might say and think of her. And the Lord confounded the easily disedified by providing enough food for Elijah, and the widow, and her son.
There will be a time for judgment, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews points out: “Human beings die once, and after that comes judgment”. And Christ will be the one to judge, as we sing in the Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead”. That is the real reason why we can judge nothing before the time, why the greatest donor is not the one who gives the largest amount, and why many who are last shall then be first, and the first last.
I like to think that the Spirit of Christ which was in the widow of the Gospel led her afterwards into the Church of Christ, an obscure and perhaps illiterate convert, undistinguished by any special gift, and only loved in the sense that all the early Christians loved one another. And we may think of her now, where the secrets of all hearts are made known, followed by myriads of people living hidden lives who have been encouraged by her story, and by some who knew her on earth, and were astonished to learn that this was that poor widow. Then we might ask ourselves, when the Body and Blood of Christ is in us, is there any such hidden service, misinterpreted perhaps by others but born of love, which the future will associate with me?