Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sunday word, 08 Nov 15

Thirty-second Sunday of the Year B (08 Nov 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The widows in the first and third readings acted as others had told them. God commanded Elijah to go to Zarephath and the widow there to feed him.1 The widow in the gospel took her cue from the scribes. They seemed to have expected sacrificial giving even from widows who were doubly poor: not only did their poverty mean no income; widows had no husbands to speak on their behalf, part of the ancient Mediterranean culture. Jesus meant both when he observed that scribes as a class devour the houses of widows.

In the gospel Jesus did not praise the widow who put into the temple treasury…all she had, her whole livelihood. He decried that she felt a need to do that. She was more evidence he used against the scribes. Among many in the temple Jesus publicly criticized them: for their lust for recognition; reciting lengthy prayers for show; and he deplored how they treated the most vulnerable.

The scribes remind us anyone can do things for show and not sincerely. They remind us greed—for recognition, for money, for things, for power—chases us all; and that it is all too easy to take advantage of others’ generosity. Those reminders are healthy ones. I remind us of another feature of our faith.

While both widows gave all they had, God told the starving widow to feed a prophet. Because God commanded her to feed Elijah I suggest she not only reminds but encourages us notice how we rely on God, especially when challenges confront us.

God commanded her to feed Elijah, yet the widow of Zarephath had to discern and decide to use the handful of flour in her jar and a little oil in her jug—all she and her son had to sustain their lives. She chose to use what she had and rely on God’s word in the mouth of the prophet: the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah. I think her jar of flour and jug of oil hold a lesson for us. The lesson is this: those simple containers held good things that sustained life. By using them to feed Elijah the widow of Zarephath allowed God to sustain her and her son.

God’s life is present in us and “all created things.” God’s life gives “existence to them” and us; God’s life preserves all things and us. God’s life registers in us as numerous graces. St. Ignatius of Loyola observed, “we place obstacles to this grace and working of our Lord before it comes, and to [preserving and protecting it] after it comes.”2 In our honest moments we admit the saint’s observation describes  us.

We may hold too tightly to God’s life—graces—to bottle God’s life, to keep with the imagery from the widow of Zarephath. Graces are given us not to keep but to help us generate gospel-life among others and become more alive ourselves. Or we may equip our lives with filters. With them we may welcome only this manner of grace and allow only that manner of grace to touch our world through us.

Even if some of us have better images for grace and how we welcome it or block it, the widow of Zarephath makes this clear: when it comes to God’s life for us and at work through us, it is all or nothing. Otherwise, we may believe in God but not as much as we believe in ourselves; or, God is our insurance policy not our Creator, Lord and Redeemer who sustains all things in being each moment. The life of grace is one of surrender; the wound of sin makes surrender our daily challenge. Surrender to God’s life is a vital grace to desire.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause in presence of our triune God.
  • Ask the widow of Zarephath to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for all the ways Jesus sustains your life and invites you to make him better known.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to surrender more to him and to his Spirit’s promptings.
  • Close saying slowly the prayer Jesus taught us. It was Jesus’ daily prayer of surrender. We can have none better than his.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. 1Kings 17.9. This is the verse immediately before the first one of the today’s reading.
  2. Ignatius of Loyola, “Letter to Francis Borgia…1545,” Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions, (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2006), p. 125.

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