Today’s first reading and Gospel reading present two widows. In
ancient times if a man died and there was no
an adult son to protect and support her, the
widow’s life was precarious. She would often have to beg for food for
herself and her children. The widow in the first reading from the First
Book of Kings was trying to survive a famine.
She was about to cook the last of her food for herself and little boy
before they died. No one cared about her, no one except God who sent the
prophet Elijah to reward her generosity.
Elijah’s successor as prophet for Israel, Elisha, came upon another
widow who cried to him, “Creditors have come to take my two children away as
slaves.” She had no defender.
She was at the mercy of dishonest judges.
She was blessed because God
performed a miracle for her thought the prophet Elisha.
He told her to gather all the empty oil jugs and jars she could find,
and pour the little oil she had into each jug. She filled them all and then
sold the oil to pay off her debts and save her children (2 Kings 4:1-7).
In today’s Gospel
Jesus attacks the scribes who devour the houses of widows.
The Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures
place a curse on anyone who would deprive widows of justice, but the fact of
the matter is that shrewd businessmen found ways around the laws to take
advantage of these defenseless women.
The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi all note that the
land suffers the sin of those who abuse the widows.
Perhaps, you might remember Naomi from the Book of Ruth.
When her husband and sons died, she was left without any support.
She sent her daughters in law to their homes for their own protection.
One, Orpah, went back to her father’s house, the other, Ruth, stayed
with Naomi to care for her and protect her.
You might remember Naomi returning to Bethlehem with Ruth and crying to
the people there, “No longer call me Naomi, a name that means
call me Mara, a name that means “bitter”.
Ruth and Naomi survived on salvaging whatever was left over in the
barley fields after the harvesters finished their work.
Now, returning to the widow of the Gospel reading, Jesus’ statement
that she gave from her poverty her whole livelihood, could be seen as a praise
of her generosity. It
could also be seen as a condemnation of society who had left her so destitute
that she, like the widow of Zeraphath, had nothing left to rely on than her
certain death. The
others gave from their surplus, she gave all that she had left. How had this
bankers mismanaged her money so that she had lost the little she had?
Had religious leaders encouraged her to impoverish herself for the sake
of the Temple treasury?
How had it happened that society could take advantage of the destitute?
How does it happen that society continues to take advantage of those
who have no protection?
Pope John Paul II wrote quite a lot about the sinful structures of
society and situations of sin.
This Pope who had suffered through the reign of Nazi terror in Poland
and the destruction of thought by the communists and had experienced the
plight of the poor and worship of materialism of the capitalists wrote about
the ideologies that have held and continue to hold the world hostage to sin.
Yet, he did not see these ideologies as some sort of beings in their
own rights. Rather,
these ideologies, be they Nazism, Communism or Materialistic Capitalism, were
constructed in a way that they profit by preying upon the helpless.
They were established and supported by people whose sum total of
personal sins turned them into vehicles for their illicit gain.
Those who formed and supported the Nazi’s concept and
glorification of Aryan supremacy saw their union as an opportunity to
steal the goods and lands of those of other people be they Jews within Germany
or Europe or gypsies, Poles, Slavs, etc.
The Nazis were not aliens from another world.
They were people like you and me who under the guise of nationalism saw
an opportunity to profit from the weakness of others.
It was the sum total of personal sins that formed Nazism.
In the same way, communism as it evolved, or devolved, in the Twentieth
Century, was not a matter of the ideals of workers sharing equally in the
profit of their work.
Instead, communism was a destruction of all morality by those who
wished to steal the goods of some for the sake of others.
Morality and Twentieth Century communism could not exist, therefore,
God had to be eliminated from the communist country.
But the communists were also not aliens from anther planet.
They were people who sought to take advantage of others by devising a
religion of the social order to replace the spirituality of God.
But enough about other people and other ideologies.
Materialistic Capitalism has progressed, or regressed, into a complete
disregard for the rights of the impoverished for the sake of the wealthy.
If people in Latin America, Asia or Africa are living a substandard
that Europeans and Americans can benefit from cheaper labor, so be it.
If their children have to work in factories so our children can have
cheaper sneakers, so be it.
How has our society come to this?
Materialistic Capitalism did not fall out of the sky.
It resulted from the number of people who firmly believe that the
wealthy have the right to take advantage of the poor.
Some will actually say, “Might makes right.”
Others will actually sight an economic application of Darwinian
evolution, “the right people get the stuff, the wrong people don’t.”
They will say and believe that the present situation of people in the
world, the division of the world into the haves and have nots,
is merely the survival of the fittest.
Materialistic Capitalism, like Nazism and Communism, is the sum total
of personal sins, the decision to take advantage of the less fortunate for
The world needs healing.
A doctor will tell you that the first step to healing is to recognize
the sickness. We
need to be aware that to the extent that we participate in the concept that
some must lose so others can gain, we are uniting our personal sins of greed
and materialism to the sum total of a sinful society.
It is not that wealth is bad.
What is wrong and sinful is using improper means to gain wealth.
What is wrong and sinful is wasting wealth without regard to the poor
We need a greater awareness of our responsibility to the formation of a
People should not marvel that a widow had nothing left to live on and gave to the Temple Treasury as a last hope before dying. People should rejoice that the poor are cared for by the rich. Indeed, the strength of a society is measured by the care it gives to its weakest members.