This week the readings call upon us to consider the meaning of giving. The widow in the first reading and the widow in the Gospel each give a significant portion of what they have. Their gifts to Elijah and to the Temple require sacrifice to the point of impacting their ability to feed themselves. The second reading reminds us that Jesus surrendered Himself completely to the Father on the cross. The same Spirit that moved the widows to give with selfless gratitude and trust in God calls us into the continuing intercessional prayer of Jesus. This same Spirit seeks to draw us into Jesus’ self-giving at our weekly Eucharistic celebration as Jesus continues His intercession and calls us forward to continue His work in today’s world. How well do I listen to the call? How well do I try to live it?
First Reading: 1 Kings 17:10-16
10 He left and went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” 11 She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.” 12 “As the LORD, your God, lives,” she answered, “I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” 13 “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said to her. “Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. 14 For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'” 15 She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; 16 The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 17:10-16 Chapters17 and 18 deal with a struggle between Yahweh and Baal for the loyalty of Israel. Baal was the god of storms and fertility. Chapter 17 opens with Elijah proclaiming a drought which was a direct assault on the Baalist religion. He then obediently goes to Zarephath where God told him to go. This set of stories about Elijah establish the second major theme of these chapters which is a portrait of prophetic life. The development of the motif of “word” throughout chapter 17 provides a glimpse of the relationship between God and His prophets. Zaraphath was a Sidonian town in territory widely acknowledged to belong to Baal not Yahweh. Even there, in “enemy” territory, Yahweh’s power brought drought and His protection surrounded Elijah. 17:10-11 The drought, of course, hurts everyone including Elijah and the woman in the story. Elijah asks for two very precious commodities during a drought. He asks for water and for food.
* 17:12 The woman protests that she has nothing. She was about to cook the last meal for herself and her son and they would then wait for death which she fully expected to come.
* 17:13 Elijah approves the widow’s “word” but adds a qualification. She can do as she said right after she brings him what he asked for. He then adds a divine assurance to his statement to the woman. When she acts in accordance to that word of God spoken by Elijah, the assurance spoken by Elijah comes to pass.
* 17:14 The theme of “word ” was introduced in the first few verses of this chapter as a divine word of power is spoken by Elijah (17:1) and then Elijah’s power to speak for God is validated by his obedience to the word of God (17:3). Now the widow hears another “word” spoken by Elijah and obeys it, thereby gaining God’s favor. Her obedience in giving away what she herself could little afford to spare was an act of faith in God’s ability to care for her.
Second Reading: Hebrews 9: 24-28
24 For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf. 25 Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; 26 if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. 27 Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, 28 so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 9:24 The Greek word for used here is “antitype” which is used in the sense of copy. See also 7:25; Rom 8:24.
* 9:25-26 Here, the author rejects the notion of repeated sacrifices of Jesus, not the concept of the eternal presence of His one sacrifice. In stating that one sacrifice took place “at the end of the ages,” the author indicates his fidelity to the time sequence of Jewish and Christian eschatology. The author seems to accept the Platonic idea of an eternal heavenly reality in contrast with temporal earthly shadows but he tempers it with a strongly historical Christian faith. He sees the heavenly sanctuary as always having existed but the heavenly sacrifice that is eternally present there, he sees as having entered into the eternal order at a particular point in time.
* 9:27 This verse is often used to illustrate the incompatibility between Christianity and belief in reincarnation.
* 9:28 By taking the sins of others upon Himself Christ takes them away. See Isa 53:12. Interestingly , even though there is a strong sense of “vicarious sin-bearing” there is no indication of “vicarious punishment.” In Semitic languages the word, “many,” is often used in the sense of “all.” The verse ends with a reference to the Parousia (Second Coming) and perhaps the Day of Atonement rituals. The appearance of Jesus again will be like the emergence of the High Priest from the Holy of Holies (Sir 50: 5-10). His return will bring complete and final salvation (1:14).
Gospel Reading: Mark 12: 38-44
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.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 12:38-44 The two incidents in this section (12:38-40; 12:41-44) form a diptych in which the characters are contrasted. The ostentation and hypocritical scribes that are criticized in this passage are the opposite of what Jesus wants his disciples to be like. Jesus warns against the scribes search for prestige and their draining the resources of widows while keeping up a pretense of piety. Although this passage has been used in the past in anti-Semitic rhetoric (as has Matt 23 which is even stronger), it must be remembered that this passage criticizes only a particular type of scribe and not all scribes and certainly not Jews in general.
* 12:38-39 The scribes were the interpreters of the Old Testament Law. In many ways, they were the ancient Jewish version of lawyers. The kind of scribes described here were putting themselves on public display in religious contexts. The robes (stolai) spoken of here were probably garments designed to enhance their prestige and honor and not necessarily prayer shawls as in Matt 23:5.
* 12:40 Scribes (lawyers) in the ancient world were often called upon to serve as trustees for widows and commonly received a portion of the estate as a fee. Those with a reputation for piety had better prospects of this kind of work. As a result of their greed and hypocrisy these scribes will receive a stiffer condemnation at the last judgment. 12:41-44 This story is connected with the previous incident by the term, “widow” and provides a contrast to the behavior of the scribes. Her inner dedication to God and her generosity also introduce the passion narrative where Jesus displays those same qualities.
* 12:42 The copper coins mentioned are called “lepta ( singular is lepton)” and were the smallest coins in circulation. The explanatory clause uses the word, quadrans, which is borrowed from Latin and is equal to about a fifth of a cent. Use of the Latin term is one of the indicators that Mark’s gospel was written for a Roman audience.
* 12:43-44 Jesus’ statement is a paradox that demands an explanation. He provides the explanation: The widow’s offering involved a real sacrifice on her part to support the Temple while the gifts of the rich were simply taken from their surplus wealth. Since they did not need what they gave and did not miss it, their gift did not seriously affect their lives.