Jesus had nothing against money and property, but he abhorred the inner attitude of too much attachment to them.
05 November 2021
Reflection on our Sunday Readings with Reverend Deacon Dr Leslie Petrus
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 17: 10-16;
Hebrews 9: 24-28; Gospel: Mark 12: 38-44
Whenever the story of the widow’s offering in the gospel is read, I remember an incident that happened while I was studying at Madras Medical College in Chennai, India. The incident touched me so much that I remember it very well, even after 37 years.
I used to feed on a widow who had three children, the oldest, a 13 year old son. She dutifully sent food five times a week; it lasted six months. But there was a time when no food was delivered for a week. I went to the convent where she worked as a sweeper. They directed me to the squatter quarter, where the houses were built with just dirt floors and plastic sheeting for roofs. I found her lying down with a cough and fever, and above her was a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As soon as she saw me, she immediately got up to find me a stool from the neighbor’s house and then went to the nearby tea stand to buy me soda water.
She had no money and I saw her begging the stand owner to lend her the sparkling water, pleading that she would pay later. When I saw this from a distance, I froze and my heart ached at what I saw, and tears swelled my eyes. When she came back I berated her for taking that soda. She refused money from me. She said, “You came to see me. Don’t take that joy away from me. God will take care of it. She gave everything to buy me a soda. When I returned, the story of the widow’s temple offering came to mind.
In the first reading from 1 Kings 17: 1-16, the prophet Elijah lived in a critical time, as the northern kingdom was ruled by King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel, who introduced idol worship. Elijah attacked this paganism by predicting a three year drought and this affected the helpless widow with a food shortage. She had little, but she was open to the word of God and ready to give even what little she had, forgoing the last meal for her child and herself.
In the second reading from Hebrews 9: 24-28, Christ died for us, giving himself entirely to die on the cross so that you and I can be saved. He thought of you and me in this atonement. Christ was centered on others. He gave everything of himself so that we could find meaning and purpose in our lives.
In the Gospel from Mark 12: 38-44, in this most visited place in Jerusalem, Jesus could zoom in on a poor low-key widow with admiration. She must have touched her heart deeply. The three widows mentioned here teach us one of the fundamental truths of the spiritual life – that abundance comes when what we give is given of our own free will. If we want to increase our faith, we have to share it with someone else. If we want more joy and peace, we must become bearers of it.
We believe in God and the teachings of Jesus, but why do we sometimes hold back instead of sharing what we have? Jesus had nothing against money and property, but he abhorred the inner attitude of too much attachment to them. God has blessed us with health, talents, and time. The question to ask ourselves daily is: how do we use all of this for Him and His people? The blessings we have are meant to be shared with others who have less or with those who have nothing.
An important question we need to ask ourselves is: What do the two widows mentioned in today’s scriptures, and the widow I met in India, have that we don’t have? As for me, despite all my years of believing in Christ, having studied, written and prayed a lot, I was missing something, deep within myself. What did the poor widows have in them that we don’t seem to have? What could widows see in life that we don’t seem to see?
I believe they had a unique and radical attitude and outlook on life – and one that we don’t seem to have. Widows had nothing more, nothing hidden in bank accounts. They didn’t even have anything for the day, and yet they were willing to give up their own needs for others. This attitude and perspective is that of Christ, a radical spirituality centered on the other, that the needs of others must affect us and challenge us to reach them. They knew what it really meant to depend on the providence of God.
This widow who many years ago got up from her sickbed and begged for sparkling water so she could offer me a drink is now the proud mother of a Catholic missionary priest serving in Sibu , Sarawak. She now lives in a comfortable house with a son and a daughter, which she has managed to provide with a good education. God also never forgot this sparkling water and blessed it in its old age.
–Rev Deacon Dr Leslie Petrus is from the Diocese of Malacca-Johore. He heads the Diocesan Commission for Family, Laity and Life and serves at St. Joseph’s Church in Plentong, Johor. He is also a practicing dentist.