Do not be afraid

Do not be afraid
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[1Kgs 17:10-16. Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10. Heb 9:24-28. Mk 12:38-44]

Today we hear about two of the most important figures in salvation history: the great prophet Elijah and our Lord Jesus; and we hear about two women who are never named - yet their deeds have come donw to us through the centuries. Why do these two women - these two widows - have such an impact? We'll look at that.

We have got to look at Elijah's situation first: He is that great prophet - the messenger of God. He is in great conflict with the king and queen at the time, Ahab and Jezebel.

And we've got to know up front, before we get into the story, that Elijah was only following God's orders here.

God calls Elijah first to place his trust in God - God, who sends Elijah into a place called Zaraphath of Phoenicia, goverened by Jezebel's father - a man named Ethbaal - who hated Elijah. And, God has sent Elijah to seek out a widow who will provide for him!

So Elijah obeys, he puts his hope in God. And now he sees the widow. He calls out to her....

And this is where we hear the widow's story: She is down to her last bit of flour and oil. She was about to make a last meal for herself and her son, and as she tells Elijah: “when we have eaten it, we shall die.”

Widows were among the most vulnerable of society in those ancient days and in Jesus’ day.
The reality of history is that women then were totally dependent on their husbands and without much social status.
So, if the husband died, the widow had no network of social support.

Widows lived as best they could: a hand-to-mouth and day-to-day staving off of poverty and oppression.
This widow of Zaraphath is at the point of despair – she is at the edge of death.
The times and tides of her fortunes could not have gotten any worse: a widow with nothing in a land that is now ravaged by drought. And now,

Elijah asks her to wait on him!

Look at Elijah’s response to the widow’s awful tale of woe: “do as you propose. But first make me a little cake.”

Hello? We have the brink of despair and death here, Elijah, and you want your dinner? And you want it FIRST???????

Yes. That’s the short answer. Elijah is trusting in God.

And Elijah also tells the widow one more thing: “Do not be afraid.”

Elijah asks the woman to step out in faith, to do this thing, because God will keep her in supply of flour and oil until the drought is over.

That’s a bold and maybe even arrogant promise made to a widow who sees too clearly the reality she faces.

BUT – she does it. And just as Elijah has foretold, she has flour and oil in abundance.

And now we go forward some 800 years to Jesus and the widow at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus, too, is a man in conflict with the powers that be.

Now, a widow comes by the Temple treasury while Jesus sits and – get this – Jesus:
observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.”
He’s just watching here!

We know from the ancient Mishnah that there were thirteen trumpet-shaped chests in the Temple that the people put their money into.
If you contributed a lot, the coins would no doubt have made a racket!
The more racket you made, the richer you were.

But this widow – she just kind of discreetly comes and drops in two little coins.
Jesus tells us that this was “all she had, her whole livelihood.”

And that is why the widow was pointed out to Jesus’ disciples:
she is completely poured out in this gift.

The widow asks for nothing.
According to the Gospel, there was no encounter between the widow and Jesus.

No cures, no comforts, no blessings, no promises.

Just Jesus’ very astute observation: the widow gave the most because she gave from her poverty. She is the example of the way of discipleship!

Now, the readings today are not about how much money you give or do not give in collections. We are all poor – we are all in the status of widows in one or another aspect of our lives.
No, today’s readings are metaphors about discipleship – of that great cost of discipleship which is available to anyone—to anyone, that is, who is willing to allow himself or herself to be emptied.

To anyone who is willing to trust only and totally in God.

Look at God’s glorious consistency here:
when we are poured out and desperate
– when we think that the end is near
–when we think that we have given all that we can give…..

When this happens, God comes – or Elijah his messenger comes – and we are told this:
Do not be afraid.
Give to me first.
Out of your poverty.

We don’t have to look far to see that example: the cross of the ultimate giver hangs just over the altar.
He gave the very gift of his human life – unafraid – and first – out of his human poverty.

There is another woman who is not a widow, yet she lost nearly everything – in the horrible atrocities of Rwanda.

Maybe you have heard of her:
her name is Immaculée Ilibagiza (ill ee ba gee za).
In 1994, she and seven other women spent 91 days cramped inside a small powder room in the house of a protestant pastor to escape the violence and bloodshed in her land.

While she was hidden, her parents were both killed – her father’s body was dragged through the streets.
A brother was rounded up and shot unceremoniously and thrown into a common grave.

During her captivity, Immaculée turned to prayer – and to the rosary given to her by her father –that small gift that we might consider his widow’s mite –just before she went into hiding. It was a gift of abundance for her - a gift of faith.

She stared down a man armed with a machete who tried to kill her during her escape.
She dealt with the heartrending loss of her family and came to learn the horrid details of their murders.

And when Immaculée finally had the opportunity to face the man who had killed her family, she gave her own small gift – her own widow's mite, so to speak, in just three words:

Out of the poverty of her loss, She told the murderer:
“I forgive you.”

What an exquisite gift! A gift beyond words! A gift of forgiveness that is a gift of love at it's most exquitite beauty.

It was her widow’s mite of sorts – a few small coins given as– three short words…. all she had....

When we are poured out and desperate – when we think that the end is near – when we think that we have given all that we can give…..

When this happens, God comes – and God tells us this:

Do not be afraid.
Give to me first.
Out of your poverty.

And you will get back in abundance!
But the first move is a move of faith.
But the first move, is yours.