THIRTY SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
There is a story about a newly-wed couple on their honeymoon who were stranded on a country road in a snowstorm. Unable to go any farther, they got out of their car and walked to a nearby farmhouse. When they reached the house, an elderly couple met them at the door. Explaining their predicament and the fact that they were newly married, the new groom asked if they could spend the night in their home – on the floor, in a chair, anywhere that was warm and dry. The elderly couple told them that they were welcome to stay. They told the newlyweds to go get their things from the car, while they freshened up the one guest room that they had in the house. The next morning the newlyweds got up early, left a thank you note on the bed and prepared to leave without disturbing the couple that hosted them. They dressed quietly and tiptoed downstairs. When they entered the living room, they found the husband and wife asleep in chairs. They had given the newlyweds their only bedroom. The couple gave all they had and made the newlyweds rich through their own generosity.
This story along with our first reading about the poor widow of Zarephath who shares with the prophet Elijah the last of her flour and oil and our Gospel story about the poor widow who placed all she had to live on into the temple treasury raises for us the question: To what lengths are we willing to go to risk sharing what little we feel we have with others?
The widow of Zarephath spoke a word of hope to Elijah, essentially telling him, I’ve got flour, oil and a couple of sticks. What little I have I am willing to share with you. The end result is that the widow and her son ate for a year. It is funny how God works when we place our trust in him and risk sharing our precious resources with others. It would be interesting to know what the outcome was for the poor widow who put all she had into the temple treasury.
These two widows ask something extremely difficult and challenging of us. When it comes to generosity, are we willing to be risk takers? It is all too easy for us to live in fear – fear of not having enough, fear of not being able to pay our bills, fear of not being able to provide for the basic needs of ourselves or our families. It is easy to look for and cling to security, especially financial security. Yet as I look back at my own life experience as a priest, I have been greatly surprised at the ways in which my life has been gifted when I risked sharing with others my talent, my treasure and especially my time, which in many ways is more valuable to me than my treasure, when I did not feel like I could afford to give them away.
Let me offer you an example of what I am talking about. I visit many people from our parish at home, in hospitals, at wakes, in nursing homes. I do it because as your pastor, I care about you and want to be present to you in the significant moments of your lives. But I must admit that there are certain days when I get a call to provide pastoral care to someone in need when I feel a resistance to doing so because that particular day I am feeling overextended, stressed out or tired. But I go. And I must say that my human encounters with people in their moments of need, even when I felt my own poverty of being tired, stressed or overextended, have blessed me in ways that I could never have imagined. And I am grateful that I have been blessed by people who went out of their way to risk sharing their precious resources with me in my moments of need.
Today as we reflect on the stories of the two widows in today’s readings, we are asked - can we risk having hearts and lives as trusting, generous and loving as these two widows? Are we willing to take the risk of sharing what little we feel we have with others? Today we are invited to reflect on the example of these two widows who risked everything and to discern what we are willing to risk for the people who come into our lives in their poverty and need.
In just a short time, we are going to celebrate the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In this sacrament Christ will reach out to you in the poverty and fragility you may be feeling in terms of your own health and well-being so that you may experience the healing power of God. Given that, may those of you who come forward to receive this sacrament look for ways in which out of your own poverty and fragility, out of what little you feel you may have to offer, you can risk sharing help and healing with those you encounter who are also experiencing great need. And may those of us who are currently blessed with good health offer our prayerful support for those who will come forward to be anointed today. – Fr. Paul
THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
There was a bumper sticker that I used to see a lot. Maybe you remember it. It read, “Have you hugged your kid today?”
I’m not convinced that parenting is something that can be taught by means of bumper stickers, but this one, I think, served as a thoughtful reminder.
With all of the demands of everyday life, all of us – perhaps parents, especially - can sometimes feel overwhelmed, and lose track of those duties that are most important, and forget those blessings that make our lives worthwhile.
“Have you hugged your kid today?”
For those of us who have been raised Catholic, and have been hearing this morning’s gospel all of our lives, the passage can strike us as self-evident. “Yes, yes,” we say to ourselves. “Of course, of course - love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Got it. What’s next?”
But I think we need to give the scribe who questioned Jesus the benefit of the doubt, and trust that his question was sincere. After all, in Jesus’ time, there were over 600 laws and prescriptions that governed Jewish daily life. In fact, it was the very complexity of the law that created the need for Pharisees and the scribes, whose role it was to adjudicate questions and disputes regarding the law.
With so many different laws, it is a natural human impulse to ask, “Which is the most important?”
In fact, even today, experts dispute which of the laws in the Bible are still important, and which no longer apply.
For example, many of the Old Testament laws regarding fasting, ritual purity, and kosher food preparation, and many of the penalties prescribed for those who break those laws, are considered by experts to no longer apply, at least to Christians.
Other Old Testament laws, on the other hand, have long been accepted as binding for Christians - thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, for example.
There are still other instances where not only the interpretation but the law itself has been changed. For example, the Biblical laws governing slavery and polygamy are no longer considered applicable, despite the fact that that still appear in the Bible.
And so, the scribe’s question to Jesus - “Which is the first of all the commandments?” - is entirely natural and reasonable. And Jesus responds - “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The scribe applauds Jesus’ answer, and Jesus assures the scribe that he is not far from the kingdom of God. Case closed.
“Have you hugged your kid today?”
It seems to me that the unstated truth hovering over the whole conversation between Jesus and the scribe, is the often damning difference between knowing the law, and honoring it with our lips, on the one hand, and keeping the law, and honoring it with our hearts, on the other.
The scribes and the Pharisees, after all, could not be fairly accused of not knowing the law. But it was not for nothing that Christ so often accused them of hypocrisy.
Just as all of the parenting skills in the world count for nothing if you never hug your kids, so too, all of the spiritual and theological skills in the world count for nothing if you fail to love God, and fail to love your neighbor.
I trust that you saw the story this past week about the violent man who killed eleven Jews - mostly elderly - who had gathered for worship at their synagogue in Pittsburg. The killer - brought to the emergency room after - was treated by a Jewish doctor, at whom the killer cursed and swore the whole time he was being treated. I’m guessing that that Jewish doctor was familiar with the first and the greatest commandment. And I think that it’s also probably safe to infer that he also knew the second.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
“And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Let us join Christ at the altar where he will reveal the essential harmony between the first and the second commandments once again. – Fr. Brian