Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
[1Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12: 38-44]
After mass last week, I had a brief chat with a little six-year-old friend of mine. Recall that last Sunday was Halloween. She was very curious to know how I was planning to dress up. “Well,” I said, “I know that on Halloween you’re supposed to be something different, so I’m going to go out as an old man.” “But you already are!” she said. Any illusions I may have harboured about my slow progress along the ageing spectrum were in that moment shattered.
Children have a wonderful ability to tell it like it is. They may cause us to smile when they do, but at the same time remind us of something foundational to our lives, and it is this: we need to hear the truth. Truth dispels illusion. Telling it like it is restores our contact with reality. The great temptation is to live one’s life governed by falsehood and shaped by fantasy. Yet we know that this is tantamount to grounding one’s existence on quicksand. The only stable basis for life is truth, what is real. We need someone trustworthy to tell it like it is, enlighten and thus dispel our false ways of thinking, and bring us home to truth.
That trustworthy Someone is Jesus Christ. As Scripture teaches, Jesus is God’s very Word incarnate (cf. John 1:14). He is the One through whom all of creation came to be (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16). Therefore, he alone can fully “tell it like it is.” Reality has come to be though him, so all that is true comes to light in him. When we listen to Jesus, we know with certainty we are hearing truth, which frees us to confront and dismiss the illusions that hold us captive.
In the particular Scripture passages given for this mass, the truth Jesus tells us is this: “There is no need to be afraid. God is looking after you and providing for your every need.” This truth is spoken to confront and dispel the fear-inducing illusion of self-reliance, of thinking that everything depends on me and my own abilities and resources. Let’s now flesh this out.
Central to the biblical texts today is the figure of a widow. At the time of Jesus, widows usually lived a very precarious existence. In an age devoid of social safety nets, they had no inheritance rights, and had to rely on their children and the charity of others to provide for them. In such a situation it would seem natural and justifiable for them to hold on to whatever they were able to receive. This renders remarkable the actions of the widows recounted in our readings. They gave away the little they had!
St. Mark tells of Jesus watching a poor widow make a donation to care for the Temple, and observing that her very small gift was all she had to live on. In the text from 1Kings, a destitute widow, with barely enough for her son and herself in a time of famine, makes a gift of what she had to care for the prophet Elijah. Neither woman held back; each gave everything she had to live on. What is the truth-telling here? How is the Word of God telling it like it is?
The widows understood that they were making an offering to God; the Temple was the dwelling place of the Almighty, and the prophet was the man sent by the Lord. In other words, their gifts represented a total handing over of their lives to God, a surrender made with absolute trust that He would provide for them. The truth-telling is this: God is trustworthy. You need not fear adversity or lack, because God will always provide for your every need. He loves you beyond measure, and is always looking after you. Don’t be afraid to make of your life a total gift to Him.
Now, like many situations when someone tells it like it is, what we hear from the Word of God today may make us squirm somewhat as it brings us back to reality. That reality is simply this: we cannot live without God; we are fully dependent upon His love and His gifts. When this truth confronts the illusion of our self-reliance, we begin to see how we have come to trust more in ourselves than in God, and our consequent tendency to hold back and refrain from giving comes to light. The truth-telling of the Gospel might very well place us in the company of the rich people, whom Jesus observes in the Temple giving large amounts from their surplus, from what they do not really need, and not from their substance. Giving to God is for them something to do after they had provided for themselves. Does this describe us as well? If so, the truth-telling implicit in the action of the widow summons us to be instead in her company. This means embracing the truth of our own poverty, our own radical dependence on the love of God. It means making God our first thought, not an afterthought, ready to give what He asks of us, and trusting with full confidence in His loving providence.
This is an important lesson to bear in mind as we mark Catholic Education Sunday. In fact, it stands at the heart of all we want to teach our beloved students. Before and above all else, we want them to know that they need not be afraid of their limits, or worry about difficult circumstances, and come to know and to trust in the promises of God, revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Children today are immersed in a world of messaging that carry ideas contrary to the Gospel and leave them deeply anxious. In our schools, we must tell it like it is and dispel the illusions and falsehoods that seek to lead our students astray. This means speaking the truth of God’s love, the truth of every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus Christ, and the truth that God calls us to follow His Son and will always care for us. This responsibility rests in a particular way with the trustees who are with us today – and we thank them for accepting this sacred duty – but it is not theirs alone. It belongs to all of us to ensure that our schools remain places where the truth of the Gospel is told like it is, and all competing illusions are kept away.
So, as in our Eucharist we give thanks to God for the gift of Catholic Education, let’s pray that He keep us faithful to its mission of leading our students to the truth-telling found in the encounter with Jesus Christ, and encouraging them to trust and follow His life-giving Word.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
November 7th, 2021