Ordinary Time 32, Year B-2009
- The Lord protects the stranger, sustains the orphan and the widow (Ps. 146:9)
A Gentile widow had barely any food left for herself and her son. But she did as the prophet Elijah had said: she first made him a little cake and served it to him even before she prepared something for herself and her son. She believed the prophetic word, which did not fail her. “She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”
A poor widow put into the temple treasury “two small coins worth a few cents.” Her offering contrasted sharply with the “large sums” contributed by many rich people. But Jesus commended her for putting in more than all the others. “For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (‘livelihood’ reads, literally in Greek, ‘life’).
These two widows were types of Jesus. They foreshadowed Jesus’ gift of his whole self, whole life, his giving up his body for us and his shedding his blood for us for the forgiveness of sin. They pointed ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice, to his being—in the words of today’s second reading—“offered once to take away the sins of many,” so that he might “appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
The two widows were, to a certain extent, examples of what Jesus understood to be what being great and being first meant. He taught: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:43-45). As is obvious too in today’s gospel reading, greatness for Jesus was not synonymous with wearing distinctive clothes or receiving, in public, greetings of respect or occupying seats of honor. Nor did greatness spell, much less, being rich at the expense of the most vulnerable. Jesus also noted on another occasion that greatness did not have anything to do with wearing fine clothes; rather, it had everything to do with being the least (cf. Mt. 11:7-11). In drawing his disciples’ attention to the poor widow, Jesus then was calling their attention to an important lesson about Christian greatness.
Readers’ attention was called on October 28, 2009 by the National Catholic Reporter to a Slovene-Argentine Vincentian Cardinal who studied at Institut Catholique in Paris . No less deserving, I humbly submit, of Jesus’ followers’ attention—as deserving of our attention as the poor widow of today’s gospel reading—is another Slovene-Argentine Vincentian missionary, who also went to Institut Catholique . Like the poor widow, Padre Pedro, I believe, is surely a personification of Christ’s church, the church of the poor, made up of strangers, widows and orphans, to whom those who go around in elegant and colorful long robes might point in mocking jest—in a similar manner that Cardinal Mazarin once took St. Vincent de Paul by his frayed cincture and presented him to the courtiers, saying with a smile: “Look how Monsieur Vincent comes dressed for the court, and look at the beautiful cincture he wears” (L. Abelly, III, chapter 18; J.M. Román, chapter XXXIII, p. 301).