Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Trusting in God
In the first reading today and in the Gospel reading we meet two widows who are very similar. Both are common, hard working women. Both are poor. Both put their trust in God rather than in things. Both are rewarded for their faith.
The first widow is a foreigner to the Hebrews. She is from Zarephath, a coastal city on the Mediterranean, northwest of the Kingdom of Israel. Elijah traveled through this land during a famine. As in all famines, the rich complain and the poor starve. The woman was poor. When Elijah met up with her, she was putting her last scraps together before she and her son would die. Imagine her as a starving woman with her child in Africa or Asia, eyes sunken with pain, belly extended. Imagine that desperation had given way to despair and a moribund acceptance of her fate and that of her son. We have all seen pictures of starving women, holding a suffering child. The woman Elijah saw was one of these women. Now, imagine if a total stranger went up to this woman and asked her for food in the name of the Lord. “He’s unreasonable,” you and I would say. “He needs to take care of himself and leave her alone,” you and I would argue. But there was a law of hospitality in scripture that demanded that strangers and foreigners be cared for in their plight. Imagine how deep the woman’s faith would have been to trust in God and share the little she had. This is what the woman in the First Book of Kings did. God saw her faith, her generosity. She received enough to eat for a full year.
The second widow was the one of the Gospel reading who put two small coins into the Temple treasury. Jesus said that her donation, although it seemed insignificant, was tremendous because she gave all that she had. Her donation was an act of putting complete faith in God to care for her.
Back in 1981, our parish conducted a drive to raise money to build our church. One day, Fr. John LaTondress, the pastor, brought communion to a poor elderly lady. I believe her name was Annie Clayton. She lived in one of the poorest trailer parks you’d ever see, where the Winn Dixie now is on the corner of Meres and Alt 19. After she received communion, Annie took an envelope and gave it to Fr. John. She told him that she had been saving a few dollars a month so that she could buy a new rug for her trailer, but she decided that it was more important that her parish have a real church, not an all purpose building. The envelope contained $48. Fr. John told her that he could not take this, but she absolutely insisted. There was no question in anybody’s mind that she was one of the greatest contributors to our building. Her name is in the book at the entrance of the Church. She is one of the rocks on these walls.
What these widows did is extremely difficult for all of us. No matter how great our faith is, it is extremely difficult to put our total trust in God. There is something within us all that looks for solutions to our problems outside of the realm of faith. Perhaps as rugged individualists we think that we can solve our own problems, conquer all obstacles ourselves. Certainly, we are all tempted to believe that the proper amount of cash applied in the right places can heal all life’s ills. At the same time, I know you will agree that the great fallacy of our age is that money can solve our problems. It is the job of advertisers to convince us that we can buy happiness. The fact is that among those who have been blessed with material success the happiest are those who have no qualms about sharing their wealth.
The radical message of today's readings is that we must place our confidence in God rather than in our material possessions. This is difficult for us to do because it demands our practicing the forgotten virtue of humility. Humility? Yes, humility. Only a humble person recognizes where he or she stands before God. Only a humble person recognizes his or her profound need for God. Only a humble person is certain that the presence of God in his or her life is fundamental to happiness.
The two widows gave from their substance. They put their trust in God shouting with their actions that His presence in their lives was infinitely more important than anything they owned, even more important than everything they owned. They give us the example of ideal Christians, humbly trusting in God to care for them.
Perhaps, some day, you and I will have faith so profound faith that we trust in God as these two widows and Annie trusted in God. But, then again, that is one of the reasons why we go to Church, isn't it? We are here pray for faith.