1 Kings 17,10-16. Mark 12,38-44
Widows figure prominently in this Sunday’s readings.
In the Bible widows have very good press. In the Old Testament, people were expected to care for them in their locality and grain was left specially in the harvest fields. In the New Testament, early Christians were enjoined to care for widows, though St Paul feels that younger ones should go ahead and get married again! It is difficult today to imagine the state of dependency to which widowhood reduced women. Their husbands, their main life support, were gone, often leaving them without income and frequently with children. In a patriarchal society, there was no social welfare for widows, no special pension. Some may have had means, others none and depended on family to support them. As widows, even those with means, they were in a vulnerable position, at the mercy of rogues who would not scruple to sue them for what they had.
In the first reading, Elijah the prophet makes his way to Sidon during a drought where he is looked after by a widow, a woman in extremely poor circumstances who offers him hospitality and shares all she has with him. A single spoonful of flour that the woman had and the little oil in the jug sufficed for the time needed. Her act of faith and kindness is rewarded and remembered centuries later by Jesus as he preached his inaugural sermon in Nazareth.
In the Gospel, in total contrast to the countryside of Sidon we are in a bustling, centre city thoroughfare near the Temple. Wealthy well-dressed citizens pretentiously contribute money to the Temple treasury. A poor widow comes, drops in two coins, and moves on immediately, not waiting to hear comments, perhaps rather embarrassed at her insignificant contribution. For Jesus however, her contribution had immense value when contrasted with the overt and ostentatious display of unfeeling piety by the wealthy. For Jesus it is the disposition of the heart that counts. Her contribution cost the widow everything she had, whereas the wealthy had surplus left over to carry on.
Today we might relate this entire gospel episode to Ireland’s influence towards alleviating the global warming at present threatening the life of the planet. Ireland’s contribution might be compared to the widow’s mite. If we replace our beef and dairy based agriculture in order to lower gas emissions, it is tempting to think that as a nation, we shall flounder, lose everything, our whole economic base. Where does the country go? A huge question. Dare one suggest that this is the meaning of the readings? Can we of present-day Ireland live up to the challenge of trusting in God’s Providence as so many Irishmen and Irish women have done in generations past, as these two women in our readings have done, risking their all to help to make life better for as long as was possible and trusting in God’s goodness to bring about a meaningful and enriching future for generations to come.
Mary O’Byrne, OP