Studying God’s Word

1 Kings 17:10-16
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44 [155B]
In the readings for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, two widows are held up as models for the faith. Scripture often upholds the poor and vulnerable in society as resources for discovering God’s presence in the world.
The first reading comes from the First Book of Kings. As the title implies, much of the content of this book covers the activities of the kings of Israel and Judah, beginning with King Solomon in the later stages of the United Monarchy (960–922 BC) and ending with King Ahaziah, who reigned for only two years in the northern kingdom of Israel (850–849 BC). Accounts of the various kings are interrupted by stories about Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 17–22), ninth-century BC prophets from the northern kingdom of Israel. In today’s reading, we hear about Elijah and the widow. The Lord sent Elijah to the city of Zarephath to stay with the widow, and today we hear about their initial encounter. The unnamed widow is presented as a woman of faith, but destitute, with no options left, and preparing to die. In her most vulnerable moment, she meets Elijah. Without hesitation, the widow follows Elijah’s directives, trusting his words that “the LORD, the God of Israel,” would miraculously save her and her son. Because of her trust in the Lord, and her trust in Elijah, she and her son had food to eat for a year.  
The Gospel reading holds up another widow as a model of faith. In the storyline of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and the disciples have now made their final entry into Jerusalem. Tensions are high as Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem publicly debate each other, with the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees challenging and questioning Jesus’ authority. Today’s reading is set in the context of Jesus’ criticism of the scribes who accept public praise and adulation but privately “devour the houses of widows.” Observing the activities at the treasury in the Temple area, Jesus points out to his disciples the irony of the contributions of the rich and poor. He comments how the rich give large amounts of money to the treasury out of their “surplus wealth,” but the widow offers only a few cents “from her poverty.” Jesus teaches the disciples that the widow, in fact, made the more sacrificial contribution because she gave from “her whole livelihood.”
The second reading is taken once again from the Letter to the Hebrews. This reading offers a prime example how the author combines Jewish theology and practice with Greek (Platonic) philosophy in advancing his Christology. Hebrews speaks of the “sanctuary” of the Temple in Jerusalem as “a copy of the true one” that resides in “heaven.” This reflects the Greek philosophical idea (popular in the first century AD) that the world as humans experience in this life is merely a shadow of the reality that lies just beyond human reach and understanding. For Hebrews, Jesus now resides in the true and everlasting sanctuary in heaven. Furthermore, Jesus’ own (one-time) blood sacrifice on the cross is far superior to the blood sacrifices the Jewish high priests offer each year for the atonement of sin. With Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, there is no need for additional sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Believers are redeemed,
once and for all, by Christ, rendering the annual Jewish feast Day of Atonement unnecessary.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz