The first reading and the Gospel today have a common link, a generous widow who trusts in God. The plight of a widow at the time of the Scripture was quite dire. There was no safety net like we have today with government programs, retirement income, and charitable care. In marriage the widow had left the care of her father’s house. Through her widowhood, the security of her husband was lost. If the widow did not have a son to care for her she was left destitute. There were little opportunities for a widow to earn income outside of the home, as only men were able to do so. So a widow was considered the poorest of the poor.
So why would Elijah call on a widow for food and water? Elijah was a prophet, whose name mean “my God is the Lord”. Just prior to his encounter with the widow, Elijah was on the brink of starvation himself. He had proclaimed to the king that no rain would fall on his kingdom, and to rely only on God’s Word to sustain the kingdom. Elijah had fled into the wilderness hiding to escape persecution by the king, with God providing him food & drink. But when the river ran dry he was forced to seek sustenance elsewhere. He journeyed to a land of a foreign god, Zarephath, encountering the widow asking her for food and drink. She seems the least likely to be of help to him.
The widow is down to the last meal for herself and her son, telling Elijah they’ll die after eating it. Despite this dire situation in her hospitality she generously provides food and drink to the prophet. Elijah tells her: don’t be afraid, God will provide for you. Through the widow’s trust in God’s providence and she and her son are able to eat for a year. Elijah’s encounter with the widow illustrates the God’ preference for the poor and the widow’s trust in God’s care.
The widow in the Gospel illustrates a similar trust in God. The two coins she donated wereequal to a daily wage, probably just enough for a meal. But she gave all she had, trusting in God. The wealthy gave out of their excess. They had little to worry about and even less dependence on God. In taking notice of the widow, Jesus shows his disciple’s God’s favor for the poor.
An early Church Father related story of widow’s contribution of two coins as a metaphor of Christ’s sacrifice. The coins represent Christ’s divinity and humanity. Christ become poor for us taking on human form. He sacrificed all by giving his life for our sins, in trusting obedience to God the Father. Through his divinity he was resurrected and gives us the hope of salvation.
We are sustained by the memorial of the Eucharist, where we partake in the food and drink that leads to our eternal life. God sustains us in the poverty of our sin, by trusting in the grace of the sacraments to nourish and heal us while we wait for Christ’s return to bring us salvation. As we’re sustained by the sacraments, we can be instruments of God mercy to bring about his Kingdom by caring for the poor.
As Jesus’s disciple’s, we’re given the opportunity to share in God’s preference for the poor. Our support of the Thanksgiving food drive, food pantry, Christmas store, and outreach assistance, shows our care for the poor here in our community.
The ministries of Catholic Charities and Catholic Schools supported by the United Catholic Appeal also directly impact the poor throughout the Archdiocese. These ministries provide homes for families through Holy Family Shelter; food, clothing, and transportation assistance through the Crisis office, and resettlement of refugees persecuted for their faith or ethnicity. Students of impoverished families are able to choose to attend Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese. Our support of these ministries provide for all of us to be God’s instruments to the poor who put their trust in God.
In my ministry of charity to offenders at Johnson County Jail I’m able to directly see the impact of God’s care for the poor. The offenders in jail struggle with both physical and spiritual poverty. They’re hungering for a relationship with God. They’re been led astray by the false gods of the world which leads them into trouble. Many of them have been trapped in a cycle of poverty and broken family relationships. When volunteers from St. Rose and I go into the jail, we’re able spiritually feed them through God’s Word and the Eucharist. We also give them hope that someone cares enough to visit them weekly at the jail.
One thing I’ve recently started doing is to tell them about the Harvest food pantry and Thanksgiving food drives at Ss. Francis and Clare and St. Rose.
I’ve noticed a great deal of interest when speaking about this, and sense how great a need there seems to be. Many have families have lost the income of their jailed family members, and appreciate the help to feed their families. This ministry supported by all of you through your donations shows God’s care for the poor. Through this generosity it hopefully strengthens their trust in God.
So as you share in the gifts God’s has given you, trust in God, and give generously. God gave his all though his Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. May the Eucharist we receive nourish us so we can be instrument of God’s care for the poor.