November 11, 2018: Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor's Corner
This Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the armistice which brought a cessation of hostilities on the Western front of the Great War. Symbolically it took effect at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. In the United States, this day of armistice has morphed into the celebration of Veterans Day, when we give thanks for all those who have served our country. Though Veterans Day is not Memorial Day, on this anniversary we at St. Dominic’s are highlighting the WWI memorial plaque which names those from the parish who gave their lives. As the Korean War veteran, Howard Osterkamp, famously remarked for those who have served, “all gave some and some gave all.” At our best, those who chose to serve inspire us to give generously from what we’ve been given.
Our readings also highlight two stories which show the generous power of service in the face of obstacles. First, we encounter the widow of Zarephath who is quite literally down to her last meal. The country is in the grip of one of the most intense draughts of the 9th century BC, and without a social network of support, the woman is resigned to her starving fate. Precisely at this moment, the prophet Elijah comes upon the scene as an ambassador of the divine help and salvation. But rather than simply give the woman food and drink or direct her to a hidden, miraculous source of sustenance, in a moment infused with classic Jewish humor, Elijah asks that she provide him with water and food: “fetch me a cup of water…make me a little cake.” In Elijah’s seemingly clueless, absurd request, there is a classic spiritual principle which itself is counterintuitive: abundance flows from generosity. At the height of her vulnerability, at the depths of her struggle to survive, the widow of Zarephath’s willingness to give from her poverty links her with the source of abundance. As she shares the little she has, she taps into the power of God’s own life which always sustains and nourishes. The widow did not let her dire, hopeless circumstances control her attitude and choices. Her generosity in the face of poverty became the very source which sustained her and her son.
Second, in the Gospel Jesus highlights the widow’s meager gift as an extraordinary example of divine generosity. Aware of his impending betrayal and death, Jesus enters the temple courtyard to critique the scribes and other leaders who hunt for happiness through prosperity, power, and prestige. Seeking satisfaction in being in control, honored with esteem, or praised as generous philanthropists cascading with surplus wealth, each of these attempts are a sort of hoarding which severs the lifeline of true happiness. By contrast, Jesus praises the widow who gives not from excess, but from her very sustenance. The widow’s generosity is not simply a random act of kindness, but an intentional gift made to God and the community. Though Jesus does not reveal the widow’s inner thoughts or even hint at how she will be blest (like the widow of Zarephath), he does hold her act of generosity up as a window into his own act of generosity on the cross. In the person of Jesus, God gives himself to us completely. By assuming human nature, Jesus does not give from the “surplus” of his divinity: wise words, miraculous healing, powerful preaching, and spectacle. He gives it all. Only when Christ is stripped of pleasure, prosperity, power, and prestige on the cross can he give himself completely and so open the gates of salvation to those who follow his example. Once again, we see how life and abundance flow from a vulnerable, but willing gift.
This Veterans Day reminds us of how we connect with the source of all that is good. Do you want joy in our life? Then give it. Do you want faith to increase? Then share it. Whatever it is in our life that we are lacking, wherever we are most vulnerable, it is there that God calls us not to grasp at and hoard, but to share. Like the twin widows, may we radiate the joy of the Gospel in the heart of the City.
Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.