A widow in Jesus’s time would have been considered an outcast in society.
With no man to own property, home, or earn an income, she would struggle to survive. And yet, with great humility and great courage, she still presents herself in the Temple, showing her faith in the God of mercy. She trusts in God’s word, and she hopes in his promise. And she gives all that she has. Jesus notices that she gives away all that she has, even though no one else would have seen this humble action. He notices the ways in which we empty ourselves when we don’t think we have anything more to give. Jesus sees the mother who rises for the sixth time in the middle of the night to comfort her crying baby. Jesus sees the father who takes up the daily grind to provide for his family, exhausted and ready for a respite. Jesus sees the child who shares his Cheerios snack with a friend. Jesus sees us. And he will give us many graces for our quiet humility and generosity.
First Reading Reflection
When the word of the Lord came to him, ‘Arise and go to Zere-phath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you”’ (1 Kgs 17:8-9 RSV). Thus, begins our story this week about Elijah the Prophet from the First Book of Kings.
At the word of the Lord, Elijah went to the town of Zarephath in Sidon. In Zarephath, he met a widow gathering sticks for the ﬁre over which she intended to cook a last meal for herself and her son. The name of the town indicates to the audience that the widow was a Phoenician and not of the Israelite race or religion. The fact that she is a foreigner highlights her charity and faith.
When Elijah met the woman, he asked her to bring him some water. Amazingly, she immediately turned to bring this beggar some water. As she turned to fetch the water, Elijah requested some bread as well. She replied by swearing an oath by the God of Israel that she had nothing baked and that the little meal she had left was the last of her food. Elijah promised her that God would provide for her and her child if she fed him what she had left. In a profound act of faith, the widow gave the Prophet of God the remainder of her food. The widow gave the whole of the little she had in contrast to most of us, who give little despite our abundance. God cannot be outdone in generosity, and so in response to her charity and faith in an unfamiliar God and His Prophet, the Lord multiplied her ﬂour and oil.
This miracle of the multiplication of the widow’s bread is a type or foreshadowing of the multiplication of the loaves and ﬁshes by Jesus. Just as God multiplied bread through Elijah, so through Jesus Christ does God multiply the bread and ﬁsh. The lesson in both cases is that those who put their trust in God will be taken care of by Divine Providence.
It is interesting that the story closes by saying that the ﬂour and oil never ran out as the “word of the Lord had said” (1 Kgs 17:16 RSV). The story began in 1 Kings 17:8 by stating that the “word of the Lord” sent Elijah to the widow. Because the pericope begins and ends with a reference to the “word of the Lord,” we can believe that we ought to trust in God.
Second Reading Reflection
In our reading from Hebrews, we discover that our sanctuaries, like the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, are meant to replicate the heavenly sanctuary. Many churches are designed to mimic the Jerusalem Temple (interestingly, Jewish synagogues were also roughly modeled on the Jerusalem Temple as well, which means that many of our churches resemble synagogues in their layout). The Temple of Solomon followed the design given by God to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27), which served as a portable temple while Israel was in the desert. The Temple replaced the Tabernacle as the proper site for the sacriﬁces of the Mosaic rites during the reign of Solomon, the son of King David. The design of our churches is meant to act as a reminder of our Jewish roots.
Christ makes an eternal oﬀering of Himself to the Father in the heavenly sanctuary. We participate in His eternal oﬀering at the re-presentation of the sacriﬁce of Calvary in the holy Eucharist, which is celebrated in our earthly sanctuaries. In every parish church, when the Eucharist is celebrated, we experience both the re-presentation of Calvary and a taste of heavenly worship. At every Mass, we experience Christ as Alpha and Omega, beginning and end: we are given a foretaste of eternal life, which is truly awe-inspiring!
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus uses the contrast between the behavior of the scribes and the action of a poor widow to teach us about the spiritual life. Even though our Christian life and worship is expressed outwardly, the life of the soul is inwardly nourished by our devotion to God. God sees our hearts; our spirits please or sadden God, because sometimes our external actions can contradict what is truly in our hearts. Some scribes exhibited their wealth and status by parading in public, not only in front of their peers, but also in the presence of those who were poor and lacking the basic needs of life. They did not simply ﬂaunt their wealth, but they did so at the expense of the poor and helpless. Scribes made a living by interpreting the Mosaic Law. Also, some acted as executers or managers of the estates of widows, and they would take part of that estate as payment. As such, Jesus says that they “devour the savings of widows.”
The widow is meant to teach us about humility and trust in the Lord. Jesus extols these virtues. The widow teaches us to sacriﬁce like Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of sinners. As the Psalmist proclaims, “My sacriﬁce, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” (Ps 51:19). Our most pleasing sacri-fice to God is a humble heart that trusts God enough to give him everything. The simplicity and humility of the widow provides us substantial material for spiritual reﬂection.
Let us approach this reading prayerfully and humbly, allowing it to instruct us in the way of humility. The scribes and the poor widow respectively give us models to avoid and to emulate. Our lives may be diﬀerent in detail but the principles remain the same.
Watch the short reflection video on FORMED.org by clicking the Opening the Word Discussion group.
Elijah makes a bold request of the widow, who is simply trying to feed herself and her son. How would you have responded to Elijah if you were in her shoes? Would you have trusted God’s word that he would provide?
Reflections reprinted here with permission from Augustine Institute.