November 5, 2021

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe First Book of Kings furnishes the first reading for Mass this weekend.

Political governance, in the minds of the ancient Hebrews, was not the chief function of their kings. Rather, assuring the nation’s faithfulness to God and to the law of God given through Moses was their kings’ primary duty.

Since this religious function was so vital, it is not surprising that many stories in the First and Second Books of Kings revolve around the prophets who were active at the time instead of the kings.

Such is the case this weekend. The central figure in the story is the prophet Elijah. In this story, Elijah appears at the gate of a city and encounters a woman collecting twigs and branches to use as firewood.

The impression left is that she was a widow, and her son was a child. She obviously is quite poor. She must forage for fuel. She needed food to provide for her son.

In fact, she is so poor that she tells Elijah that after she and her son consume whatever she can bake using the meager amount of flour and oil on hand, she and the son will die. There is nothing else.

Elijah tells her that, if she will feed him, she and the son will not die. God will provide. The story ends by telling us that she prepared food for Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out. The prophet called her to trust.

For its second reading, the Church this weekend gives us a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. Building upon traditional Jewish themes, the author writes about Jesus in the most soaring language.

The reading declares that God has ordained that all people must die, but that they all may live if they turn to Jesus.

St. Mark’s Gospel offers the last reading. It is a familiar story, in which the Lord spoke quite sternly about scribes, who, being able to read and write in an era when religious knowledge mattered more than anything else, were specialists in interpreting the law of Moses and were well regarded as such.

Jesus did not belittle the law of Moses, but criticized the self-satisfaction and even sinful pride of the scribes.

He presented a contrast. At the time in that culture, widows could be very vulnerable. People understood the contrast. Jesus described a poor widow who gave to the temple a small donation, but great for her in her poverty. It is the paragon of love for God and trust in God. Jesus spoke of her as such.

Reflection

The widow’s mite is a story beloved by Christians. Yet it has been for generations also a challenge for Christians. God wants our heartfelt, deep, genuine love.

Christmas symbols already festoon every store. People are planning for Christmas.

An old European legend tells of a Christmas custom in a great, medieval city. People thronged to Christmas Mass in the magnificent cathedral. After Mass, the rich and mighty marched to a Nativity scene and laid before it gifts of stunning value, sparkling and beautiful, awing the congregation.

The cathedral was unusual. Its massive bells, on rare occasions, just spontaneously rang. People said that the bells rang when God was pleased.

A young orphan boy, poor, forgotten and ignored, found a broken gold button on the street, fallen from someone’s coat. He worked and worked to clean it and polish it. At Christmas Mass in the cathedral, he stood in the shadows, embarrassed by his shabbiness. When the church was empty and the grand presentation of gifts by the rich completed, he crept to the crib and placed his little, bended button before it.

Suddenly, the bells rang. People said that their melody had never been more lovely. †

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