Widows at the time of Jesus and long before --- were at the bottom of the barrel. Without any social safety net in a world where men earned the household income – and wives ran the home --- widows had no one to look after them, so were extremely vulnerable.
This would have been especially true of the widow in Zarephath in the first reading.
Her situation was even worse than normal – because she lived in an area where there had been a severe drought for years. In her world – everyone was having a hard time. . .
Into her life walks the prophet Elijah. The widow would have regarded him as an enemy – for he was the one who announced the drought as a punishment for the sins of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
But even this foreigner – this non-Jew was able to put into practice the principle that underlies all the Jewish laws – and what the observance of the law should lead to – love of neighbor – as she practices hospitality by offering Elijah a cup of water.
Amazingly she trusts Elijah’s word that God would provide for her and her son when she makes a small cake out of the little oil and water she has left.
This widow puts herself into the flow of God’s giving by giving the little she has. And God rewards her trust by providing food for her and her son for an entire year: God is generous to those who are generous.
Centuries later, Jesus encounters another vulnerable widow at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Like the widow of Zarephath, she too is at the bottom of the barrel.
Our Gospel begins with Jesus criticizing the learned theologians of the day, the Scribes – who are at the top of the barrel. They enjoy the benefits of their positions:
long robes, seats of honor in the synagogue, and always a place at the head table at banquets and other gatherings.
These scribes are the ones in Jewish society who served as trustees for impoverished widows – who, much like the Roman tax collectors – always took more than enough for themselves to keep up their lavish lifestyles – they took advantage of those they were supposed to be taking care of.
In contrast to these well-to-do folks ---- Jesus points out the poor widow who puts two small coins in the Temple treasury.
Unlike larger and more valuable coins that would have made a lot of noise going down the trumpet shaped collection tubes --- so designed so that the bigger the donation, the louder the noise – hence more eyes turning to observe the giver -----
like a slot machine pay out in a casino with jealous eyes turning to see the winner ---- the widow’s small coins would not have been noticed.
But just as Jesus paid attention to the blind Bartimeaus in the noisy crowd of Jericho – Jesus paid attention to this woman giving her donation. A donation from what little she had --- trusting that God will be generous to those who are generous.
These two widows can teach us a lot – if we are willing to pay attention to them.
When we forget that all we have comes from God and we become too comfortable and accustomed to relying on our own resources – we have a tendency to fill our lives with more stuff – all the while taking the stuff we already had – for granted.
These two widows teach us that it is only when we have hit the bottom of the barrel – or can imagine ourselves at the bottom --- that we can begin to trust that God will provide for all we need.
Those who adopt the attitude of the widows can actually grow in trusting that God will provide. We call those who do this – good stewards: those who receive God’s gifts gratefully, cherish and tend them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others – and returns them with increase to the Lord.
Good stewards understand that God is generous to those who are generous – they know what the widows came to know --- that God gives back more than we can ever give.
Good stewards set aside their first and generous time for personal prayer – especially the importance of attending Mass when we give thanks to God for all God has given.
Good stewards set aside a first portion of their busy schedule to give time in humble service to others--- beginning with their families & friends.
Good stewards sacrifice a first portion of their financial treasure to God – instead of just tossing whatever is left into the collection basket.
Jesus is in Jerusalem: a city of passion, of death, and of resurrection.
He notices this widow in the Temple just days before he is stripped of everything and gives his life completely for us on the cross. The widow points to what Jesus will do: he will contribute all that he has for our salvation. His trust in God will be returned when he is raised from the dead and shares the power of the resurrection with those who are willing to die to themselves – to give everything they have for the sake of the kingdom.
In the garden of Gethsemene, Jesus had his moment of doubt: if it is possible, let this cup pass from me he says – but not my will but God’s will be done ---
And anyone who takes the first steps in embracing stewardship as a way of life, also have their doubts – the fear that they will not have enough.
But those who take that first step – begin to experience the reality that they receive much more back than they ever give.
We pray for the grace and the courage to embrace the faith of these two widows – and of Jesus – and be willing to give our gifts of time, talent, and treasure – for the sake of the kingdom of God.
For God is generous to those who are generous.
So for the members of our young church preparing for their first reconciliation and Eucharist --- may you come to see that in these Sacraments – God always gives us back much more than we offer:
In reconciliation – we turn our sins over to God – and receive from God abundant forgiveness and mercy.
In the Eucharist – we give to God our gifts – and receive from God the gift of Christ’s own body – which allows us to become more like Christ.
We thank your parents for brining you to this point in your life of faith – and we congratulate you for taking this next step in your commitment to following Christ.
Moments in time...