November 7, 2021 The Thirty-second Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: Getting a happy ending
Psalm 146 starts out singing heartfelt praises to the Almighty God for being an abundant helper. It recounts God’s resume of great works: the blind see, the hungry are fed, wrongs are made right, and much more. Anyone who has prayed for and gotten a miracle shares a bond with the Psalmist for their happy ending. Many of us though, don’t get the answers to our prayers that we want. It seems God is not listening. Why can’t we be like the lucky ones? Is there a magic formula that we need to follow? Does God play favorites? Let’s explore this question by comparing the two widows in our readings today.
It hadn’t rained for a long time, and everyone was suffering. The Lord had provided for his prophet, Elijah, up until now, but even the brook that was sustaining him dried up. Now, God tells him to go to, of all people: a poor Gentile widow in Zarephath! Here is a key. God tells Elijah that He has commanded her to provide for him. Apparently, she did not get the memo because when he finally gets there, he finds her preparing the last of her rations for her family’s final meal and he wasn’t on the guest list. Elijah has learned by now that God doesn’t send where He doesn’t provide. He confidently assures the widow that if she bakes him some bread first, then God will provide for her and won’t let the supply of flour and oil run out. With nothing to lose in her desperate situation, she complies, a happy ending ensues, and she comes to faith in the God of Israel. She writes a book “Psalm 146 and Me”, makes the rounds on the talk shows, has it turned into a movie, and lives comfortably off the royalties. Alleluia! This is the feel-good kind of God story we crave, not only for the widow, but because it gives us hope that one day we too may be a winner in life’s lottery. Now, let’s take a look at widow number two in today’s reading in Mark’s gospel.
Jesus finishes condemning the Pharisees for, among other things, devouring widow’s houses. Then, He sits down with his disciples and watches the rich Pharisees make an impressive display of their large contributions to the Temple treasury. They astound the people with their apparent generosity and piety. Then a poor widow, who most likely had her final means of support taken away from her by those selfsame Pharisees, drops her last two mites into the chest. Jesus applies God’s heavenly multiplier to her contribution and commends her for giving more than anyone else. What becomes of the destitute widow now that she has laid everything on the altar? We hope that something miraculous happens to her as a reward for her faith and dependence on the Almighty. Most likely though, nobody cares about her, she starves to death, and Psalm 146 seemingly mocks her by the lack of a happy ending.
So, why the disparity? Psalm 146 has two levels of meaning: physical and spiritual. Yes, God does rescue the desperate out of their circumstances. We hear stories about people escaping perils by the help of strangers only to discover afterwards that they were angels in disguise. You most likely can recall an extraordinary event in your life and wondered if God was in it. Jesus was rescued from treacherous situations because His time had not yet come and that’s the point. Miracles aren’t done for miracle’s sake. God intervenes in the physical world in order to promote a heavenly agenda. The passages of Psalm 146 take on more significance in the spiritual sense. * We ought to view them more as salvation metaphors than mere physical deliverances. After all, what lasting good is in the physical? It all ends. Even those amazingly rescued in the Bible eventually died. Christ’s purpose was to die as a sacrifice that could satisfy man’s sin debt to God (Hebrews 9:24-28). So, when He asked His Father in heaven to rescue Him from His fate in the Garden of Gethsemane, the answer was “NO!”
We must have faith in God through the trials of life knowing that all things will work together for good. Even though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him (Job 13:15). Let us remember that for every Joseph released from prison, there is an executed John the Baptist. For every David that slays a Goliath, there is a martyred Stephen. For every Isaac spared from a sacrificial knife, there is a Christ with a spear in His side. (Praise God for that!) Jesus triumphed over our greatest adversaries: Sin and Death. In this world we will have tribulations, but we are more than conquerors in Christ (Romans 8:37). It’s the focus on the spiritual that gives us the confidence in this physical world to face the lions…singing. God did not rescue Jesus from the cross. He let His Son die in order to provide us an escape from a fate worse than death. Come to Jesus now for salvation and have a real happy ending.
*See Mass Prep for Sunday September 9, 2018