Homily 32nd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings 1 Kings 17:10-16; Ps 146:7-10; Heb 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44
Blessings upon those who eagerly await and imitate Christ
Today we celebrate Jesus Christ, a “type” of the poor, one in solidarity with widows, orphans and the needy, and a perfect high priest, pure and selfless, humble and simple.
Besides Christ, two widows are models of discipleship in the Bible readings of today! One is the widow of Zaraphath who generously fed God’s prophet, Elijah in the first reading (1 Kings 17:10-16). The other is the poor widow in Mark 12:38-44, who made such a generous offering to the Temple treasury.
This Temple was everything and central in Judaism; a place of worship, sacrifice, prayer, place to sing psalms and praises. Solomon took time to build it, a job that his father, David would have loved to do ( 2 Sam 7). But destroyed by Babylonian- enemies (586BC), and rebuilt again after the exiles (515 BC), to be re-destroyed again by the Romans (70 AD).
Although a symbol of God’s presence it was also place where abuses, hypocrisy, worship without ethics, selfishness, egoism, practiced by the Scribes, the priests, the Pharisees, the elites, were being noticed. No wonder Israel’s prophets; Amos, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and many others spoke out against these behaviors.
At the beginning of his ministry in John’s Gospel, Jesus began by cleansing and critiquing unethical behaviors in this same Temple. He critiqued it again in the Synoptic Gospel, towards the end of his ministry, as he journeyed to his ultimate sacrifice of the cross in Jerusalem.
While in this Jerusalem, in Mark’s Gospel (12:38:44) he teaches about true discipleship, true worship, faithfulness and humility, generosity lived by this widow. He notices particularly this poor widow and many other but rich folks who showed up at the Temple with different types and levels of offerings. At least, the divine Jesus could read their heart and intention as well!
The offerings of the rich were calculated, orchestrated and hypocritical gifts just to fulfill the tithing laws, while that of the poor widow was that entire she had in spite of her poverty. It was as little and equivalent to the handful of flour and the little jug of oil of the woman Elijah had encountered. But an encounter that sparked the divine reward and blessings: her jar of her flour was never going to be empty again, nor the jug or her oil. Our sincerity and goodness can never go unnoticed by the Lord!
Jesus, himself when she speaks of the poor widow says “She from her poverty has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Jesus wants his disciples, the church, leaders, all of us to be aware of this. The poor woman’s generosity deserves praise and blessings like the woman of Zarephath. Unlike the rich who represents the Scribes the Pharisees or the Levitical priesthood of old, she gave all her savings to God. She gave her life and livelihood! She lived for others. She sacrificed everything she had, foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, his life.
St. Paul puts it well in 2 Corinthian 8:9 that, “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
This voluntary poverty or sacrifice of Jesus, which St. Paul preaches and affirms by, the 2nd reading, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, was once and for all. It took away our sins. It was also spontaneous, moral, salfivic, and a product of love. Unlike the levitical priests, Christ entered into the presence of God, that is the heavenly sanctuary/temple, on our behalf. He opened the way for us and pleaded our cause.
Ways abounds for us today to avoid the mistakes of the past Scribes by imitating these biblical widows. Instead of aggressively seeking best seats in the synagogues, churches and noticeable positions and places of honor here and there, we want humbly, where ever we are, or find ourselves each day, to always putt others first, especially, children, women, the poor, the voiceless, or at least wait to be invited up.
Ostentatious and hypocritical act of worship can also be replaced with faith-filled, prayers, worship and voluntary acts of charity that comes from the depths of our hearts, since Christ voluntarily sacrificed his life for us. And blessings are for those who imitate not only these widows, in their neighborhoods, offices, homes, religious communities and places of work but Christ’s life style as a whole.