7 NOV 2021: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28: MK 12:38-44.
This is a Sunday where two protagonists in the readings are simple, poor widows. Remember, in Jesus’ time, widows, orphans and strangers were long identified as the most vulnerable and at-risk groups. Here, the widows demonstrate an enviable generosity and confidence in God.
But the readings today are not meant to evoke a quaint, warm, fuzzy attitude toward widows. In fact, there are three challenging takeaways from the Gospel alone:
First, to fully realize the dignity of all human life, everyone — and especially those most vulnerable and at-risk — are called to realize their God-given empowerment. The widow in the Gospel was exercising her own agency. Nobody was doing something kind for her, she was putting her money into the treasury herself. The poor need to be the actors in the drama of their lives, and our job is to assist that human development.
Some – even in church leadership — are threatened and fearful of the prospect of all God’s children fully using their gifts and rising from the margins. For them, one-way charity is fine, but solidarity and popular movements are unsettling. Responding to his own critics within the church, the late Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camera once said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
What if today’s Gospel had several widows together who not only put their livelihood in the collection but echoed Jesus’ words of condemnation to the temple authorities? Would we still have the same warm feeling toward the widows? Hopefully yes.
Some of the church’s finest work today is being done at local levels in building community and empowering the marginalized. The Vatican under Pope Francis has created a new office for “integral human development” and here in the United States, Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development are two examples of institutionalized ways that the poor are truly uplifted.
Second, we need to either challenge or walk away in disgust from people and institutions who exploit others. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is walking out of the Temple for the last time, and he is doing so fed up with the oppression and phoniness of the Temple authorities. Unfortunately, people continue to walk out of houses of worship because of either direct traumatic acts of exploitation and abuse, or more subtle but no less worrisome silence on others areas of exploitation: clericalism, racism, sexism, destruction of the environment, and so much more.
Third — and circling back to the widow — giving of ourselves more fully to God and others is the best defense against exploitation and the best offense in lifting others up. We are basically at the end of a church year where we have walked with Mark on a journey of discipleship, and this is the time to evaluate and acknowledge our growth in discipleship or our backsliding into hypocrisy. The lasting image, the final lesson that Jesus gives us as he leaves the space of organized religion is the lifting up of a widow, and the condemnation of oppressive authorities. How are we keeping his legacy alive?