B: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Place the Word on Your Heart

November 12, 2006

1 Kings 17:10-16; Mark 12:38 – 44

Jewish rabbis take the bible very seriously. Because they believe it is God’s word they are convinced that nothing in the bible is there by chance. Every word, every expression, every comma has a significance. On one occasion two rabbinical students were discussing a passage from the book of Deuteronomy. They were trying to understand why God commanded us in that book to put the word of God on our hearts. Why did God not say to put God’s word in our hearts? Is not that where the word of God should be? Since they could not figure this out, they went to ask the rabbi why does the bible say we are to place the word of God on our hearts instead of in our hearts? This was his response: “We are commanded to place the word of God on our hearts because our hearts are closed and the word of God cannot get in. So God commands us to place the word of God on our hearts. And there it sits there it waits. It waits for the day when our hearts will be broken. When they are broken, then the word of God will fall gently inside.”

How wise this explanation is! We all here believe in God. We all would express our conviction that God loves us and will save us. But when things are going well, when we are confident in our strength and success, when we are convinced that we can handle things on our own, God’s word sits on our hearts. It cannot get inside, because our hearts are too full of ourselves. So God’s word sits and waits until we fail, until we are hurt, until we have to struggle with sickness, addiction, pain, or death. It waits until our hearts break, then it falls gently inside and gives us both power and peace. Those who know their own need are the ones who can carry the word of God in their hearts. Those who struggle with weakness and failure are the ones who truly experience the power and peace of God’s presence.  Those who are in need are those who truly believe.

This is why in today’s first reading and the Gospel the central characters are widows. In the ancient world a widow was the most vulnerable member of society. Without family her need was paramount. Her need nurtured her faith. Without family on which to depend, she depended on God alone.

It is easier to believe the word of God, when we recognize our own need. So whenever we experience loss, failure, or pain, there is hope. God’s word is sitting on our hearts, waiting to console and strengthen us. As difficult as our trials may be, they can lead us to God. It is often our brokenness that allows the love of God in.


Anointing of the Sick

November 8, 2009

Mark 12:38-44

At our liturgy today we celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It is appropriate for us today to do so in this context. Not all of us here are sick. Not all of us are dealing with physical pain or emotional stress or the struggle that comes with old age. Yet all of us here are connected to the people who will be receiving the sacrament. In faith, we believe that we are the Body of Christ and when one member of the body suffers, it is the responsibility of every member of the body to support that person through our love and through our prayers. That is what we are doing today. We surround those who are dealing with sickness and support them with our presence. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick then is a sacrament of the entire church, of the whole community. We will pray this sacrament together.

In a special way, the sacrament, of course, addresses those who will be coming forward to be anointed. In that context, the widow, in today’s Gospel, is a good example for those who suffer. The widow, although she is poor, does not let her poverty stop her from giving. When we are sick, there is the inclination to shut down, to believe that we have nothing to give. Those who are sick can often conclude that the little they can offer is of no value. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick strengthens those who receive it to see themselves as a child of God with true value. Even though those who are sick have less energy and more pain, they are still able to offer what they have, to offer their wisdom and their love. We pray in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, that those who struggle with sickness will always know their worth and value and believe that even though they wish they had more to give, the little that they have will be treasured and valued.

So as we celebrate this sacrament, we certainly pray that those who are sick will recover and that their pain will be relieved. But we also pray that they will always know their value in God’s eyes and believe that whatever they can offer, will be a blessing both to them and to our whole community.


The Widow’s Choice

November 8, 2015

Mark 12:38-44

There is an issue to be resolved in today’s gospel. Jesus clearly says that a poor widow put more into the temple treasury than anyone else because of her extreme sacrifice. The few coins that she placed in the treasury were all that she had to live on. Now there is no denying the widow’s sacrifice. But here is the issue we must decide: Did Jesus praise her action or lament it? Did Jesus see her donation to the treasury as a good thing or as a misguided choice? I would suggest to you that Jesus saw it as a misguided choice. I believe that he, like us, would conclude that a woman who was so poor should keep what she had for herself and her children rather than giving to the temple treasury.

Moreover, the fact that this woman gave all that she had to the treasury might well indicate that some people were pressuring her to do so. Those she trusted and respected were calling on her to give her entire livelihood. Who might these people be? The first part of today’s gospel makes that clear. Jesus criticizes the scribes who seek their own honor and devour the homes of widows. Jesus is criticizing the scribes because they are using their position of authority for their own gain rather than the service of others. This poor widow becomes a victim of their advice and gives away all that she has. Jesus laments her decision.

When we look at the gospel from this perspective, it becomes an admonition to us to make our choices carefully, to discern honestly what God is calling us to do in every situation. God has given to each one of us free will and the obligation to form our conscience wisely. Of course, as we form our conscience, we should be attentive to those who have expertise and those who have authority. But, we must also discern in each circumstance, in what way and to what extent what others say is God’s will for us.

This is a useful reminder as we face another year of presidential campaigning. We have to listen to the candidates, to what they say and what they promise— realizing that those who speak the loudest or have the highest poll numbers might not be the best choice. We must discern which candidates would be most effective in achieving the common good for our country.

This applies as well to our church. Those in religious authority should be respected, but they are not perfect. Pope Francis, on many occasions, has criticized fellow bishops and priests for their desire to achieve power rather than service. So we must carefully listen to what our religious leaders say and what they do and then discern what God is calling us to do.

This has relevance as well to our personal relationships. It is right that we honor our parents, our siblings, and our friends. We want to please them. But when they tell us, “This is what I expect you to do. Don’t ever consider that. Agree with me or else,” we have to discern what is possible and what is right, and then set our course accordingly.

God has given to each one of us the right and the obligation to form our conscience correctly. In doing so, we must be attentive to those we love and to those that have authority over us. But we can never abdicate our choices to them. In each circumstance, we have to discern what God is calling us to do. If the widow in today’s gospel had claimed that freedom, she might have chosen differently. She might have said, “I honor the scribes, and I love God’s holy temple, but I will not donate to the temple treasury. I will use these two small coins to keep myself and my children alive.”