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32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
1 Kings 17:10-16
Psalm 146:7-10
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Art of Self-Giving
The First Reading and the Gospel Reading deal with the subject of giving.  The focus of both teachings is that it is not what you give but why you give it, and all giving should be motivated from the heart in genuine self-giving.  In both readings, a poor Gentile widow (the First Reading) and a poor Jewish widow (the Gospel Reading) have made gifts of self-giving that is worth very little materially, but their gift is precious to God because their gift giving is out of their meager resources and stands for a generous self-giving heart.

In the Second Reading, the inspired writer focuses on God's representative, the Jewish High Priest, and his service in the Jerusalem Temple where he offered the people's gifts of sacrifice, taking up the blood of sacrificial victims to atone for the sins of the people.  The inspired writer compares the Old Covenant anointed Jewish High Priest and his service to Jesus, the anointed Son of God.  The Jewish High Priest served in the earthly Temple, but Jesus serves as the New Covenant High Priest, and He presides in the heavenly Temple, praying for us and presenting His sacrifice that He gave as a gift for the expiation of sins for all mankind once and for all on the altar of the Cross.  In the liturgy of the Mass, the priest, as Christ's representative, offers Jesus' sacrifice and His prayer for us in the Eucharistic celebration.  We in return, receive His gift as we pray: "We offer You [God] in thanksgiving for this holy and living sacrifice.  May He [Christ] make us an everlasting gift to you" (Eucharistic Prayer III).  It is our obligation to make acts of charity in genuine self-giving, like the widows in the First and Gospel Readings.  From our resources, no matter how meager or how great, we give to the poor and we give to support Jesus' Kingdom of the Church.  We also make every Eucharistic celebration an act of genuine self-giving through the offering of ourselves united to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, as we receive the Eucharist, God's gift to us that He promises, like the widow's jar of flour and jug of oil in the First Reading, will never "run out" until the Lord Jesus returns.  And in our self-giving, we should joyfully sing with our mouths and in our hearts the words from today's Psalm: "Praise the Lord my soul."

The First Reading 1 Kings 17:10-16 ~ The Generous Gentile Widow of Zarephath
10 In those days, Elijah the prophet 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 She answered, "As the LORD, your God, lives, 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 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid.  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.

The entire region of the Levant was devastated by the drought and resulting famine that was foretold by Elijah at God's command as a judgment against the worship of the false Canaanite and Phoenician god, Baal (1 Kng 17:1).  God commanded Elijah to leave the Transjordan region where He had sent him to protect him from the wrath of King Ahab of Israel and his pagan wife Jezebel, who worshipped the pagan god Baal, and to journey to a Mediterranean coastal city in Phoenician territory to seek refuge with a widow (1 Kng 17:2-9).  What was ironic concerning the new place of refuge is that Elijah's life was in danger from King Ahab who was promoting Baal worship, yet God was sending him into the very heart of Baal worship to seek refuge.  Elijah was commanded to go to Zarephath in Sidonia, and stay there where God had ordered a Gentile widow there to give him food and lodging (1 King 17:9).

10 In those days, Elijah the prophet 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." 
The woman is identified as a widow; it is an indication of her poverty since a widow, unless she had a grown son to support her, was entirely on her own and probably lacked the means to support herself.   It must have shocked the prophet that Yahweh told him to seek refuge in the home of a Gentile, Phoenician woman, but he obeyed without questioning the command.

Zarephath was a town on the Mediterranean coast just 8 miles south of the important Phoenician trading city of Sidon which had jurisdiction over the town (Sidon was the home of wicked Queen Jezebel) and 14 miles north of Tyre.  Elijah probably recognized her as a widow by her widow's garb, clothing typically worn long after the mourning period (Gen 38:14 and Jdt 8:5; 10:3; 16:8).  He knew that the woman didn't have enough resources to sustain herself much less him, but he understood that Yahweh words "I have ordered a woman there to give you food" meant that a miracle was to be associated with this woman.

Notice that Elijah tests the woman in three ways to see if she is the right widow: 

  1. He asks her for water.
  2. He asks her to bring him a little bread.
  3. After she admits that she and her son are starving, he asks her to bake him a cake of bread.

Elijah, servant of Yahweh, testing of the widow to see if she is the one Yahweh had chosen by asking her to bring him water recalls the testing of what another woman by Abraham's servant in Genesis 24:10-20.  Abraham's servant, who was sent to find a bride for Isaac in the Aramaean homeland of Abraham's extended family, tested Rebekah by asking for water in Genesis 24:17 to see if she was the one Yahweh had chosen as a wife for Isaac.  In the story of Elijah and the widow and Abraham's servant and Rebekah, the sought after woman is discovered using the same tactic.  Rebekah only underwent one test, but Elijah tests the widow three times.  Both women were blessed by Yahweh for their generous response to a traveler's request.

12 She answered, "As the LORD, your God, lives, 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." 
The Gentile woman knew that Elijah was an Israelite who worshiped Yahweh.  The dress and the habits of Israelites who worshipped Yahweh made them stand out from other peoples in the region: they could not cut or shape their beards, as was the custom of Gentile men, and all Israelite men faithful to Yahweh wore an outer cloak with tassels at each of the four corners (Lev 19:27; Num 15:37-39; Dt 22:12; Mt 9:20; 23:5 and 1 Kng 19:13).

This was a very patient woman: she was in desperate straits, Yahweh was not her God, and yet she did as Elijah requested.  The widow's act of mercy and self-giving for the sake of God's prophet counted toward her salvation both temporally and spiritually.  As a reward in verse 14, Elijah gave the woman a blessing in the name of Yahweh: for the entire time until the end of the drought, the woman's jar of oil and her jug of meal were tp remain full.

15 The woman went and did as Elijah told her and they ate the food, she, himself and her son.  16 The jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied, just as Yahweh had foretold through Elijah.
Elijah's prophecy was fulfilled and the woman and her son were blessed because of her generosity in cooperating in God's plan for His prophet's care and for her well-being.  When we give as the widow gave in a sacrifice of self-giving, we are also blessed and the spiritual blessing is worth much more than the material gift.  The Fathers of the Church saw the self-giving of the Gentile widow and her blessing as foreshadowing the welcoming of the Gentiles into the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm 146:7-10 ~ The Lord sees the needs of the Poor and Needy
Response: "Praise the Lord my soul."  Or "Alleluia."

The LORD keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.
Response:
The LORD gives sight to the blind; the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.  The LORD loves the just; the LORD protects strangers.
Response:
The fatherless and the widow he sustains, but the way of the wicked he thwarts.  The LORD shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations.  Alleluia.
Response:

Psalm 146 is the first psalm of the 3rd group of Hallel ("praise God") psalms that were recited in the morning daily liturgy in the Jerusalem Temple.  In this psalm, the psalmist announces that it is God who meets the needs of the most vulnerable in society:

  1. He secures justice for the oppressed.
  2. He gives food to the hungry.
  3. He sets the unjustly imprisoned free.
  4. He gives sight to the blind.
  5. He lifts up those who are bowed down by life.
  6. He protects the stranger.
  7. He sustains the widow and orphan.
  8. He stands in the way of the wicked.

God does all these things through the self-giving works of the righteous, who in His name perform acts of charity.  These are the just ones who the Lord God loves throughout human history and in the covenant community of His Church.

The contrast between the fate of the righteous and the fate of the wicked in this psalm recalls the words of Psalm 1 that describes the fate of the wicked as opposed to the fate of the just.  It also recalls Jesus' "Sermon on the Plain" in Luke 6:20-26.  In His sermon, He blessed the poor and promised judgment against the wealthy when they do not use their blessings of wealth to help the poor but instead ignore the plight of the humble and dispossessed.  And Psalm 146 should also remind us of Jesus' description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.  Those who purposely choose throughout their lives to ignore the command to be self-giving to those in need of help will face God's divine judgment and will be deprived of entrance into the Promised Land of Heaven.

The Second Reading Hebrews 9:24-28 ~ Jesus, Our One Perfect Sacrifice
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 this 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.

Earthly things are not in themselves holy—they must be purified, which made the Old Covenant purification rites necessary.  Heavenly things, however, are already pure.  From the time of the Fall of Adam, the sacrificial blood of animals accompanied by confession and contrition became a cleansing and atoning symbol which foreshadowed Christ's one perfect sacrifice: Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement (Lev 17:11).  But unlike the Old Covenant High Priest on the Day of Atonement, Jesus, our High Priest, did not offer blood that was not His own. He offered the one perfect sacrifice that would have the power to forgive sins in His own flesh and His own blood, fulfilling what had only been a symbol in past ages but would now serve as the cleansing and purifying act of expiation that was necessary for all time.

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. 
What Jesus offers is one perfect but on-going sacrifice.  He was selected before the foundation of the earth to offer Himself in atonement for our sins (1 Pt 1:20-21).

In these passages from Hebrews 9:26-27, the inspired writer is again referring to the yearly sacrifices on the Feast of Atonement, known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur, "Day of Covering", referring to the sins of the covenant people being "covered" in a communal reconciliation sacrifice.  Sirach 50:5-24 describes the dramatic event of the High Priest offering sacrifice for the atonement of sins for the people on the Feast of Atonement: How splendid he was as he appeared from the tent, as he came from within the veil!  Like a star shining among the clouds, like the full moon at the holyday season; like the sun shining upon the temple, like the rainbow appearing in the cloudy sky; like the blossoms on the branches in springtime, like a lily on the banks of a stream; like the trees of Lebanon in summer, like the fire of incense at the sacrifice; like a vessel of beaten gold, studded with precious stones; lie a luxuriant olive tree thick with fruit, like cypress standing against the clouds; vested in his magnificent robes, and wearing his garments of splendor, as he ascended the glorious altar and lent majesty to the court of the sanctuary (Sir 50:5-11).  This expression of the thankfulness of the people for the ministry of the High Priest whose service brings the covenant people atonement and restoration of communion with God should pale in comparison with our expressions thankfulness for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in His ministry as our High Priest, offering atonement for our sins in the heavenly Sanctuary!

In Hebrews 9:26: "At the end of the ages" is an expression signifying the Second Advent of Christ, the end of the world as we know it, and the de-creation and regeneration that will occur at that eschatological event (see Mt 24:37-44; Lk 17:26-27; 34-35; 1 Cor 15:23-28; 1 Thes 4:13-18; 1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pt 3:10-13; Rev 20:11-21:2; and CCC# 1001-2). 

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.
After death there is individual judgment (see CCC# 1021- 22).  This completely eliminates any discussion of the theory of reincarnation for Christians (see CCC# 1013).  For human life on earth, death is a one-time only, unrepeatable act except in the case of Lazarus and others who were miraculously raised from death or in certain unique cases through the intervention of medical science (with the ascent of God) to live and die again (these exceptions, however are resuscitations not resurrections).  The Preface of Christian Death I in the Roman Missal reads: Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.  When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.

As death comes to most mortals as an unrepeatable act, so too Jesus' bloody death on the altar of the Cross was an unrepeatable sacrifice that was offered once and for all time achieving atonement and redemption for mankind as a whole.  All subsequent offering of His one unique sacrifice are therefore unbloody, as in the sacrifice of the Mass (see CCC# 1330 and the document "Is the Eucharist a True Sacrifice?").

In Hebrews 9:28, to take away the sins of many, is a quote from Isaiah 53:12Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses (emphasis added).  The Greek verb anaphero [an-af-er'-o] used in this phrase can mean either to "take away", "take up", or "to bear."  The inspired writer is making use of the double meaning of this verb to convey, that by His atoning death on the Cross, Jesus both bore our sins and took them away.  There is a similar word play used by St. John in the Gospel of John 1:29

The word "many" in 9:28 has the Semitic meaning of "all" in the inclusive sense.  It is used in the same sense in Mark 14:24 in Jesus words at the Last Supper: He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many."  The inspired writer is using the vision of the High Priest disappearing into the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for the people on the Day of Atonement and then reappearing after the sacrifice has been accepted by God by comparing the events to Jesus' Ascension to the Father as the perfect sacrifice in the cloud as He enters the Holy of Holies of heaven, as the Apostles and disciples saw Him leave the earth to enter the heavenly Sanctuary in Acts 1:9, and His promised return in the Second Advent when He will reappear.  For the Prophet Daniel's vision of Jesus entering the heavenly Sanctuary, see Daniel 7:9-14.  It is the vision of what happened after Jesus left the sight of the disciples on the Mount of Olives in Acts 1:9.

We have the assurance that Jesus will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.  When Jesus comes again in what we call His "Second Advent" or "Second Coming", He will complete the process of our salvation in a final act that will end the present earthly existence and inaugurate a new Heaven and a new earth, uniting the holy family of God of all generations into one eternal Kingdom. 

The Gospel of Mark 12:38-44 ~ Denunciation of the Scribes and the Gift of the Poor Widow
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."

God the Son is continuing to "come against" the failed religious leadership in fulfillment of Ezekiel 34:1-25.  Jesus' condemnation of the scholars of the Law for their hypocrisy is similar to His condemnation of both the Pharisees and scribes in Mark 7:2-5.  Widows were especially vulnerable if they didn't have a living son to support them.  Jesus' condemnation suggests the scribes in their business dealings confiscate the homes of widows who are unable to support themselves and at the same time pretend piety in their prayers while they demand the positions of highest honor.  Jesus proclaims that the judgment for their heartless acts against the poor will be severe (see Jesus' judgment on the heartless rich in Lk 6:24-26).

Mark 12:41-44 ~ The Poor Widow's Temple Donation
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."
Within the Temple complex was a treasury where people could make donations for the support of the poor (Neh 10:38; Josephus, Jewish Wars, 6.5.2 [282]).  The widow deposited two copper coins (lepta), the smallest value coins then in circulation (Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, page 316). Since there was only coinage at this period, when the wealthy threw in their contributions the sound of the coins made a lot of noise while the poor widow's two coins only made two small sounds as they fell into the box.  She is one of the anawim, the "lowly ones" mentioned in the Old Testament.  She is one of the poor and afflicted who find their solace in God alone (Is 29:19; 61:1; Zeph 2:3) and to whom Jesus promised justice and vindication in His Discourse on the Plain in Luke 6:20-26.  Widows had no inheritance rights and had to rely on their children, or male relatives, or the charity of other members of the covenant family to take care of them as it was commanded under the Law (Ex 20:12; Lev 19:3; Dt 14:28-29; 24:19-21).

Jesus contrasts the poor widow with the pretentious scribes who "devour the houses of widows". In contrast to the hypocritical, pretentious and money loving scribes, Jesus points out a poor widow who does not place material wealth before her duty to God.  Trusting God with a faithful and generous heart, she gives what little she has to support the poor.  The generous self-giving of her contribution counts more with God because she gave out of her poverty and so the percentage of her gift is far greater than the large donations others give out of substantial wealth.

In which category do you fall?  Are you generous in your self-giving as an agent of God bringing justice to the poor and dispossessed of society?  Such self-sacrifice will be rewarded by God when you face the throne of God's judgment and that reward cannot be compared to material benefit for the personal use of those goods on earth.  So indulge in the art of self-giving and God will reward you with spiritual blessings in this life and in the next.

Catechism References:
1 Kings 17:7-16 (CCC 2583)
Hebrews 9:24 (CCC 519; 662; 2741); 9:25 (CCC 662); 9:26 (CCC 571); 9:27 (CCC 1013; 1021)
Mark 12:38-40 (CCC 678); 12:41-44 (CCC 2444)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015