November 11, 2012 - Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

The readings today are split between heaven and earth, between the glorious throne of God where Jesus offers his own body and blood and down here where a widow plans a last meal with her son, between the sanctuary not made by hands and the treasure box where a widow drops two of her last coins. Yet these places are not so far apart after all. The widow and her son are fed by a miracle sent by a prophet. The poor widow dropping her coins is being watched by God himself and is praised by him. And the offering in heaven is the offering of Jesus Christ on the Cross, perhaps the most earthly of all realities, the reality of a man dying at the cruel hands of other men.

Jesus Christ is the mediator between heaven and earth, between God and humans. He brings together everything that was supposed to be together from the beginning but was divided by sin. Sin was an uncrossable canyon, dividing us forever from God. Then Jesus Christ crossed it, forever bringing together the high and the low, heaven and earth. Everything is united in him, because he is God and man. Even the miracles of the Old Testament have their power in him, for his sacrifice was once and for all. It changed everything, both forward in time and backward. His birth in Bethlehem and his death in Jerusalem were events in time, but all human history is in relation to the Incarnation and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

There is no difference in the world like the difference between God and humans. The difference between the richest man and the poorest is nothing in comparison. All of us are poor, above all because we have no ability to hold on to our treasures. Everything can be taken away in an instant: a fire, a storm, sickness, violence. We try to insure ourselves against losses, but even that is a proof of our underlying poverty. That widow gave of her livelihood, counting on God to support her. She is in a more sure position than any amount of insurance could provide. By giving what she needed to God, she is placing her complete trust in him, and he has promised to provide for those who trust in him.

We are afraid to place our confidence in God. Somehow we feel so sure that he will not provide for us. We see people who have nothing, and so we know that God does not magically provide for everyone. There are real needs in our world, and where is God? How can he expect us to trust in him when we see with our own eyes that he has failed the poor, at least as far as this world is concerned. What would we dare to say? That those Christians who starve to death each day were just lacking in faith? Sure, we can speak of heaven and say that, like Lazarus who died in streets, God will repay all those who suffered in this life. I do not doubt it, yet still something is missing.

It is not God’s purpose that each of us would depend on him without receiving any visible support in this world, so that he could then repay us in the next. He told Adam to go and work, and the point of work is profit. God wants us to do as much good in this world as possible. He wants us to work hard, and, unless we are going to work in a foolish way, hard work equals profit. The widow in the Gospel was poor, but that was either because she was not allowed to work in her community or because she was unable. The widow in the first reading was poor, but that was because of the drought. No matter how common such circumstances are, they are the exception. And even then, I do not think that we are to imagine that either widow had not tried to support herself as much as possible. Depending on God does not mean abandoning responsibility for our own life.

To depend on God means, above all, to see the work of God in our life. We need to stop taking credit for things. So much of the good that has happened to us was not because of our own work. Even much of what we can justly take credit for involved a great deal of what most people call luck. The point is to have an attitude of gratitude. Every day there are many things to thank God for, and when we look back on our life we ought to see his work in the midst of our failures. There is no purpose here in making comparisons. It is not about what somebody else has gotten in their life, but, in mine, where can I see God’s action and guidance. Eventually, as we grow spiritually, we will see his providence behind every corner.

To depend on God means, also, to work as much as we are able. Some people see this as a contradiction. They mock Christians because we trust God but still work. But once we have become grateful for his every gift, we realize that our ability to act is itself his gift, and to squander the gift would be ingratitude. Who knows, tomorrow I may not be able to work any longer, but today I can, so I work with all my strength.

To depend on God means, also, to give back. We see that the widow in the Gospel gave to God by dropping coins in the temple treasury. We see that the widow in the first reading gave to God by providing food for his prophet. In both cases, the women gave from their poverty. This does not denigrate someone who gives from their wealth, but clearly the last coins or the last bit of flour is the greater gift. These women teach us that giving to God is not something we do when everything else in our life is settled. Giving to him is the first thing we do, even if it means we have to beg for help from someone else. The primary way we give to God is by giving to the poor. If two poor people each had just enough bread for the day, they could eat their own share or they could each give their share to the other. Which of these ways of thinking and acting is God trying to lead us to?