08 Nov 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By: Deacon Blaine Barclay
November 8th, 2015
A Tale of Two Widows
What we have set before us in the readings is, “A Tale of Two Widows”, two stories of trust in the generosity of God’s providential care, and a generosity of heart born of this trust. But let me first say something about the fate of widows in the time of Elijah and in the time of Jesus. These ancient biblical times were way before there was any kind of social safety net in society. To be sure, the Law of Moses made special provisions for the care of widows and orphans, but this care often took the form of the right of the poor to glean for and gather food in the fields of the wealthy. The law required that people leave ten percent of their harvest in the fields for the poor to gather food for their own sustenance, a kind of workfare if you like. In fact, if you harvested these crops for yourself you were stealing from the poor. Upon the death of her husband a woman had no right of inheritance so widows were among the poorest of the poor. But, “God hears the cry of the poor”. God is even referred to in Psalm 68 as, “defender of the Widow”.
The widow in in our first story would of course have the right to glean for food in the fields of others. The trouble was that they were in the middle of a three year drought, even the streams were dried up, there was a famine in the land, so there was no harvest to glean from. The widow and her son had hit rock bottom. The cupboard was bare, there was nothing left for them but to eat their last morsel of food and then to lie down and die. The situation of this widow and her son is way beyond a song of lamentation, sadder than the saddest country song, on the other side of singing the blues. Theirs is an abject, debilitating poverty; it has the smell of death about it. Into the midst of this poverty and despair comes the person of the Prophet Elijah who is also hungry and asks her for food. Her response is a lesson for all of us. Having almost nothing, with the nothingness of death knocking on her family’s door, how does she respond? She does not cling even to the little that she has. This hero widow of ours chooses to practice hospitality of the heart. She chooses to walk in the path of generosity. Elijah speaks to her God’s word of promise. “Do not be afraid…” Trust in the generosity of God. “The jar of meal will not be emptied, and the jug of oil will not fail”.
Generosity is an act of trust in God’s prior generosity. The generous heart recognizes the gift of creation and the gift of grace. Because of this recognition, generosity is also able to welcome the other person as a gift, especially the poor and needy. Jesus also teaches us with the example of a generous widow. He watches her, he sees the generosity of her heart. “Then he called his disciples”. Look at her, she gives so little but she gives so much. Follow her example, imitate her generosity. Generosity is not a matter of the quantity of the gift, but it is a matter of the quality of the gift. Does it come from the heart? Is it born out of trust in the prior generosity of God?
God’s very nature is generosity. The interior life of the Trinity is a mutual giving and receiving of the coeternal gift of the other persons of the Trinity. And the whole of creation is an icon of the overflowing generosity of God. Creation is a gift; creaturely existence is in its every moment a gift. God creates freely, out of nothing, to exist is pure gift. God becoming flesh in Jesus of Nazareth in order to bring us back to God is also a pure unmerited gift, as is the gift of the Holy Spirit. God is a threefold generosity, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The generosity of our hearts, our hospitality of the heart towards others, needs to be rooted and grounded in this prior threefold generosity of God. Such generosity, like the generosity of the hero widows in our stories, is an act of trust in the providence of God.