Last Sunday the Gospel addressed the question, Which is the greatest of all the commandments? The goal of the Christian life is to experience the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ, be transformed by that love, learn to love God deeply and humbly in return, and allow that love to spill over into every relationship with our neighbor.
This week the sacred Scriptures help us to reflect upon what that transformation of our lives looks like in the concrete. For our prayerful reflection we are given two examples of generous love. An unsuspecting pair of widows are our teachers this week.
The first of these widows comes from the First Book of Kings. A great drought and resultant famine have overshadowed the land and the people of God are starving, many of them to the point of death. Elijah, the great prophet, arrives after a journey at the house of a widow and asks her for a loaf of bread and a cup of water. She has suffered immensely from the famine and has come to the end of her rope. She has enough flour in the jar for one final loaf for herself and her son. She tells Elijah that after this meager meal, she and her son shall die because there is nothing left to eat. Elijah makes a wonderful promise to her that God will take care of her and her son if only she does as the prophet asks. So, the woman courageously offers her last loaf and drink of water to the prophet. Then, she discovers that her flour and oil last miraculously until the famine is over.
This widow demonstrates a willingness to give everything that she has over to God. She places her trust radically in God in the face of dire circumstances. She is willing to lay it all on the line when common sense would suggest to hold on to what you have. The widow of Zarephath learns what it means, in Blessed Teresa of Kolkatas words, to give until it hurts.
In our Gospel reading this week from Mark, another widow is presented to us, this time by Jesus. Our Lord notices her as she enters the temple in Jerusalem and makes a meager offering of two small coins. Jesus contrasts her gift with that of some wealthy people who offer rather sizeable sums. Jesus surprisingly proclaims that she gave more than the others. Why? Because she gave all she had, her whole livelihood.
Jesus uses her generous gift to teach us what the love of God looks like. Our Lord defines Christian love as the generous gift of self to the other. It generally begins with a reckless abandonment to God. It means placing all of our trust in Him. It demands that we spiritually leap off of a cliff into His strong, loving arms. Once we dwell in the embrace of God, then love becomes a self-emptying for the sake of the other. This concept of love is radical, but radical love is what we all long for in the depths of our hearts. It is what fulfills the human heart.
This weeks passage from the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims why we should take the example of these widows so seriously. They resemble Jesus gift of self on the cross. The passage states that Christ came once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Jesus gift of His life on the cross is the supreme example of self-emptying love. Jesus, Gods eternal and only begotten Son, gave it all up to the Father as He hung on a tree in order to demonstrate His love, redeem every human being ever created, heal our broken relationship with the Father, and open the door to eternal life. Jesus gave all He had to live on. He gave His very self.
Two widows and a cross teach us the meaning of faith and love. Go and do the same.
Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.
38 In the course of his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
39 seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.
40 They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation."
41 He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
42 A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.
44 For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."
While we are content to be guided by appearances, to judge people by what they possess and to value presents by how much they cost, Christ measures us by our inner motives and attitudes behind our actions.