6th Century mosaic, Left side of nave, Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy
This reflection was given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth OSU, at a Mass of Remembrance on November 11. The Mass readings are below the reflection.
You have heard of the Tale of Two Cities? Well today’s readings can be titled the Tale of the Two Widows.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And there were two widows. They lived centuries and miles apart. They did not know each other nor could they have known each other. Yet they had things in common. First they were widows—lowest on the rung of the social ladder….lower than even a slave. Then they both had lost a dear one…namely their husbands, they might have still been grieving, they were financially poor, and yet strangely enough, they were both extremely generous and strong women of great faith.
Now, I will name the first widow, Mrs.Less-oil and the second Mrs. Littleworth. Mrs. Less-oil was a young widow who still had a son who seemed to depend on her. Mrs. Littleworth’s children did not seem to be anywhere around their mother. Maybe she depended on them maybe not. We know so little of her.
Mrs. Less-oil was really down to her last meal. She had no more oil nor did she have any flour….except a little…just enough to take care of her needs and the needs of her son. Then she and her son were going to die. How do you tell that to a child? And yet, when a stranger came and asked her to take some of her means and serve him first, she hesitated, but then she agreed without compliant. Not only did she bring him water, he had asked for that first, but she made him the cake he also asked for. He in turn told her to fear not, that Jehovah, the God of the Israelites, would see that she had enough to last until the drought was over.
Mrs. Less-oil had to take it on faith that the God of the Jews would do as the prophet said, for she had given her all. She had to dig deeply into her resources. She had to have faith. She may or may not have heard of the God of the Jews. But she had faith in that God.
Fast forward centuries and see Jesus sitting with his men taking it easy and just observing people in the Temple. He has just finished giving his observations about the Scribes (whom Jesus did not care for) not just because of their showy garments but because they devoured the houses of widows. Apparently, Mrs. Littleworth had come to pay the temple tax. Did she come because it was the thing she felt she had to do out of obligation? Did she come because the Scribes told her she had to come or they would devour her house? Did she come because she really wanted to keep the temple going for other worshippers? Perhaps that was it. We don’t know. What we do know is that the conversation that Jesus had with his men was a study in contrasts when Mrs. Littleworth came into their sight. She was not dressed in any special Temple garments and certainly not carrying a purse of many coins. Some, like the scribes, put in many coins and stood there and listened to them clankity-clank down the temple slots, they felt good about all they put in. Mrs. Littleworth on the other hand had two coins which she put in and they went clink and clank and that was it. She had to take it on faith that Jehovah, the God to whom the temple was dedicated, would take care of her needs since she had given almost her all. She dug deeply into her resources. She had to have faith that Jehovah would care for her.
And so the tale of these two widows, Mrs. Less-oil and Mrs. Littleworth, who lived centuries and miles apart, is about faith. Ageless, timeless, faith. It is about digging deeply into personal resources. It is about being willing to give your all. It is about giving your life over to God. And did you notice that these two widows also helped others before they thought about themselves? Mrs. Less-oil, challenged by a stranger, helped him first…She gave before she got anything back. Mrs. Littleworth gave to the temple so others could continue to come there to worship. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Mrs. Less-oil and Mrs. Littleworth were making a life, I think.
But these widows are simply examples for us. We have all come here to celebrate this Mass to remember loved ones, friends, parents, siblings, cousins, children,…loved ones who have left us and moved on to another dimension of life. And maybe we are not widows in a technical sense of the word, but we are people who have been left behind as others we love have moved on. And perhaps their leaving us has called upon us to have faith…to have faith that God has a plan for us….even without that loved one. Perhaps a loved one leaving us has caused us to dig deeply into our resources, our spiritual resources to find that little bit of flour or that one coin that has allowed us to keep going after our loved one is gone.
I have known of terrible, unexpected or senseless deaths that seemed hopeless to me and yet individuals or families have had faith and have dug deeply into their spiritual resources and have come out giving to others because of their tragic experience. You know about situations like that, too. And maybe some of you have done that….. have taken a tragedy or loss in your life and turned it into something better.
And maybe, when we have the faith and trust and generosity that we see in the tale of these two widows just maybe what seems the worst of times in our life, can turn out to be the best of times.
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.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
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.”
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.
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.’”
She left and did as Elijah had said.
She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well;
the jar of flour did not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
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.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”