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
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
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.”
What God Sees
November 11, 2018
Mark 12: 38 – 44
The temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was a busy place. Thousands of pilgrims were arriving each day. There were people praying, rabbis teaching their students, merchants selling animals for sacrifice and, of course, vendors selling whatever was the first century equivalent of the modern t-shirt. The number of people and the activity would not be unlike the scene at the Brown’s game this afternoon. Yet with crowd and feverish activity, in today’s gospel what Jesus notices is a poor widow. A widow who is probably the most insignificant person in the whole temple area.
Jesus not only notices her, but he knows her story. He knows that she is desperate. He knows that the few coins she puts into the temple treasury are all that she has. The text does not tell us whether the widow knew that Jesus had noticed her. In fact, she probably was accustomed to being unnoticed. As a widow without family or friends, she was a largely invisible person to the powerful and rich people in the temple area. Yet she pushes her way through the crowd to reach the treasury and offer her two small coins. She believes that God will see her small act of faith. God does. Jesus sees her and loves her.
This gospel tells us that we are never invisible to God. When we find ourselves in desperate situations like the widow, we are tempted to say, “No one knows my pain. No one understands my struggle. No one sees the burden that I carry.” This gospel is telling us that God sees our burden and loves us. We might feel captured in a loveless relationship—a marriage or a family connection—and that relationship is draining us of life. We look at other people and they seem to be so happy. We are ashamed to admit to others the emptiness that we feel inside. We say to ourselves, “No one understands my pain.” Today’s gospel says: God understands your pain and loves you. We might be struggling with unkind actions towards us—bullying at school, derogatory remarks by the people with whom we hang around. We put on a strong face. We try to laugh along with the hurtful remarks, but inside we are afraid. Afraid of who might turn up and what they might say. We say, “No one knows the fear that I carry”. God knows your fear. God knows your story and loves you. We might be overwhelmed with grief, grief over a person we have lost in death or the end of an important relationship. People offer us their sympathy, but we know they also think it is about time we get over it. We can’t get over it. So, we take that grief, bring it inside, and carry it alone. No one notices. God notices and loves you.
We are never invisible to God. God sees the burdens that we carry and loves us. Therefore, when we find ourselves in desperate situations like the widow, whatever small steps we can take towards life, whatever weak faith we can offer, whatever small coins we can give, all of these things are of great value. Because, if God sees us and loves us, there is hope.
Following the Desperate Widow
November 7, 2021
Today’s gospel is not for everyone. It is for those of us who are desperate, those of us who are hanging by a thread, those of us who are not sure that we have the resources to maintain our hope and our joy. The widow in the gospel is desperate. She has no family, no means of support, no security for the future. All she has is two small coins that are not enough for life. The gospel tells us two things about this widow. First, she gives the two small coins, all that she has, away. And second, that Jesus sees what she does and loves her for it.
You and I are probably not desperate in the sense that the widow in the gospel is desperate. We live in comfortable homes. We do not worry about whether we will eat tomorrow. But for some of us, there may be a situation in our life in which we are hanging by a thread, an area in which we are desperate. If this is the case, then today’s gospel asks us to imitate the widow, to give away the little that we have even though it is likely that it will not be enough to make a difference.
Your grandson, whom you love, has become addicted to narcotics. The same grandson who year after year would come and help you bake Christmas cookies. The same grandson who would regale you with his exploits on the football field. Now he is coming apart. His life is going down the tubes, and you do not have the means to save him. You are desperate. All you have is your love. Today’s gospel asks you to find a way to show that love, however small, to send your grandson a text that you are thinking of him, even though it is very likely that text will not be able to turn him around. Your marriage is in peril and you are not sure how you got there. It seems that only a couple of years ago there was more than enough love between you and your spouse. Now even carrying on a conversation is an ordeal, and you cannot remember the last time that the two of you connected in any meaningful way. You are desperate. There is the possibility of counseling, but when you look at the distance between the two of you, that seems all too little. Today’s gospel invites you to give yourself to counseling even though the chances of success seem out of reach. You cannot remember the last time you felt well. Ever since the diagnosis of cancer your life has been a series of tests and treatments and more tests. Your days are filled with present pain and fear for the future. You are desperate for a break. Desperate to again be normal. But all you have is the choice of your own attitude and the love for the people around you. Today’s gospel invites you to love those who support you and to somehow take up a positive attitude, to find a smile, even though that smile is not going to defeat your cancer.
When we are desperate, Jesus asks us to follow the example of the widow and to give away the little that we have even though it is unlikely that that will be enough to make a difference. The gospel does not promise that your text will turn your grandson around, that counseling will save your marriage, or that a smile will eliminate your cancer. But it does promise us this. If we follow the example of the widow and give the little that we have away, Jesus will see what we do, and he will love us for it. And that is no small matter. Because when Jesus sees us, hope is always possible. When God loves us, anything can happen.