One thing common in our first reading and the gospel today is the role of widows in our salvation history. After pronouncing a severe drought in Israel for three and half years as result of the sins of Ahab, there was no dew or rain. It was during those years that God directed the prophet, who later came to Zarephath, where he saw a widow gathering sticks there. He called out to the woman and asked for a cupful of water to drink. As she left for it, he also asked for a bit of bread. The woman’s faith came out when she told him that as the Lord, his God lives, she had nothing baked, except a handful of flour in her jar and little oil in her jug, which she and her son were going to eat before they die. At this, Elijah assured her that the jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth. Having acted according to the instruction of the prophet, as he told her, she was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah ( 1 Kings 17:10-16).
This teaches us the power of faith in the words of prophecy. The widow believed the words of the prophet of God. She gave him all she had, out of strong faith and generosity. Her hospitality and generosity was rewarded. As we can see, the little food she had for her son and herself, did not run out. It lasted for them and for the prophet till God restored rains and fertility to the land.
The sincerity and genuine faith of poor widows in the history of our salvation is very evident. Widows generally depend on God, as they have no one else. Jesus today, makes a contrast between the ostentatiousness of the scribes and the genuine religiosity of the widow in the temple.
While the scribes showed a pious exteriority without religion of the heart, their hypocrisy made them subject to Jesus’ continued attacks. That is why Jesus warns against the scribes, who like to parade around in their robes and like marks of respect in public, front seats in synagogues, and places of honor. Continuing, he remarks how they devour widows’ savings and recite long prayers all to be seen. Jesus condemns their hypocrisy and lack of religiosity. At the same time, he shows authentic respect which contrasts clearly against the ways of the scribes and those who ruled Jewish society. In doing this, Jesus observes a poor widow who has proved that her heart is completely detached from the goods of this world. She gives all that she has, her life. She gave the widow’s mite. This poor widow put in two small copper coins worth about a cent, by doing so, in the eyes of Jesus, she contributed more than all the others who donated to the treasury. They gave from their surplus wealth, while the poor widow gave from her want, all that she had to live on (Mark 12:38-44).
Jesus wants us to understand that true religion entails some sacrifice. We must give-up something in order to be open to receiving what we are to channel to others. While this religious attitude is lacking in the scribes, it is found in the poor widow in her generosity. Applied to us, we must look into our lives and see what we can genuinely give up in order to have a place for God. We must make sacrifices to be effective instruments of God’s grace, and to successfully proclaim the word of God to others. We cannot be God’s instruments by being ostentatious, but by being authentic and genuine in our ways.
In another place, Jesus tells us that without him, we can do nothing. As our high priest, he entered heaven that he might appear before God now on our behalf. Now, he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sins once for all by his sacrifice. Since he was offered up once to take away the sins of many, he will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him (Hebrews 9:24-28).
Let us come to him now, that he might be our true religion.
Rev. Fr. Michael Onyekwere, SDV, PhD