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God's Word on Sunday: Put fear aside, focus on aiding others

  • October 31, 2021

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 7 (Year B) 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Elijah’s request might have seemed a bit presumptuous and insensitive to the poor widow at Zarephath.

She and her son were on the verge of starvation and this prophet was demanding food! She patiently explained that she had nothing more than a mouthful or so left and that death was just around the corner.

But Elijah did not relent — he insisted that she fulfil his request, but he gave her stunning reassurance. The jar of meal and the jug of oil would be self-filling until the end of the long and deadly drought. This was not magic, but the will of the God of Israel. The caveat that he added, often repeated in Scripture, was that she was not to be afraid.

Fear often erects barriers in the face of God’s grace and mercy. It is a certain deal breaker. Fear has a stranglehold on the world in the present.

So many fear the murky future, perceived threats from all sides and, above all, lack of so many things. Despair and hopelessness are always lurking in the background.

By putting aside fear and trusting in the provident care of God, we enable divine forces to come to our aid. This is not some sort of prosperity gospel but merely a way in which we can dispose ourselves to receive God’s blessings.

One might ask what comfort this is to a starving person or to those whose lives lie in ruins. But this trust in God presupposes the willingness of many to share and come to the aid of all. Often God’s blessings come through the hands of others.

Active kindness and compassion open channels in the human heart and soul. We receive according to how much and how cheerfully we have given.

As we weather perilous times, it would be helpful if we could all loosen the panicky hold that we have on everything and focus on helping and providing for others. There is more than enough for all, for God’s kindness and generosity are boundless.

Let us all share God’s abundance, for we are all in this together.

Hebrews is a difficult letter to slog through. There are many beautiful and profound teachings in it, but it uses sacrificial imagery and a theology that most no longer share or understand.

Simply put, Jesus was surely human but far more — He is not just some great and inspiring teacher (although He was that too). He stands at the end of history; He has taken charge of our spiritual progress and our salvation. At the culmination of human history, He will appear again to save those who have yearned for His coming. To put it in colloquial terms, Jesus has our backs — we should not be afraid as we face life’s many challenges and struggles.

Jesus described the outrageous behaviour of the scribes, but in truth, they are no different from many other classes of people. Arrogance, pride, greed and a sense of entitlement can be found in abundance in business, government, education, professional fields and, yes, in religions of all types. This behaviour is particularly odious when observed in religious people, who should know better.

Those who behave in this fashion lack a couple of vital elements. The first is humility and the awareness that we are all the same in God’s eyes. We all share the same faults and weaknesses. The second is gratitude, which does not mesh well with a sense of entitlement. What God has blessed us with is not earned or deserved and should not be used to inflate the ego or lord it over others. As St. Francis observed, a person is what they are before God and nothing more.

Jesus contrasted their behaviour with that of the widow, who gave all she had as an offering to the temple. Our giving can be structured in such a way that we do not really feel it and the tax receipt can take away the sting.

The widow did not get a tax receipt. Common sense would say that she was a bit rash and should have kept something back for her own sustenance. But generous love often overrides alleged common sense. She did not play it safe; she gave everything to God.

We can only hope that her generosity rebounded on her many times over. We reap what we sow.