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Ordinary Time 32 (B)
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Readings for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. I Kings 17, 10-16

  • In those days Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath.  This place name has everything to do with the prophet’s message.  Listen to how God is going to act, there across the frontier, among ‘the nations.’ 
  • A widow was gathering sticks there.  I hear a message that is all too familiar in our own world of abundance.  The prophet is spent from hunger; when was the last time I depended on the good will of strangers?  But so is the widow of Zarephath.  She has only a handful of flour and a little oil to prepare something.  Something?  When have I seen that absent, resigned look in a grownup or child lately?  Can I say this without feeling or condescension, but without outrage?  I’ll work at it until I get the dust of that coastal town in my eyes and hair.
  • Do not be afraid.  If spoken apart from any action of mercy, these words would be hypocritical.  I can make them sound genuine because the prophet suffers the same plight as the widow – and if I have ever suffered through a drought this way.
  • First make me a little cake and bring it to me.  The request sounds selfish and even scandalous to our ears, when some of our own ministers live for such handouts.  Two things occur to me.  Following the scripture focus on God, we are supposed to act in hope for deliverance: The jar of flour shall not go empty.  But then we should recall how they act in ancient cultures like these, where the stranger is welcomed and fed first of all!  The prophet does not need to assure her, because she would spontaneously offer him all the resources she had.
  • Until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.  Everything in scripture has a purpose.  Back then it was a long drought.  Now it may be too much rain.  As the beneficiaries – or is it hostages? – of ‘El Niño,’ saved from the fury of severe hurricanes and passing through a normal rainy season, we know that God has everything to do with the larger picture.  Worship of the Most High is not superstition, and I can speak these lines with my adult sense of faith.
  • She left and did what Elijah had said.  They were able to eat for a year.  I remember the miracle of the manna that covered the earth every morning.  I also become aware that for God everything is possible.  Do I read it as a ‘happily ever after’ fairy story, or as a gritty tale of endurance?
  • Climax: The Lord God of Israel says.  There is a judgment here, and these will form the words of my strongest delivery.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we see the hunger around us?  What will we do?
  • I will challenge myself: To take to my heart the word that the Lord had foretold by Elijah.  God gives even better than he promises.  Do I reflect this in my voice and bearing?

 

2. Hebrews 9, 24-28

  • Now where am I?  Why am I at a loss to deal with these long forgotten images?  Let me raise myself to a cosmic level, where our common fate is in play.
  • The writer has the perspective of God, and heaven itself.  That is fine, since we are all destined for this.  I will slow down as I read, becoming ponderous and decisive.  See the climax below for one set of stage directions.
  • At the same time, I may shed some light on the mystery of the Eucharist, where we also say that Jesus was offered once to take away the sins of many.  (And I clarify the ambiguous translation "offered once" for my listeners; "a single offering" rather than "a long-ago offering.")  In terms of sacrifice, what we remember is not being repeated or duplicated each time.  Let me do my part to slip in a teaching moment.
  • Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment.  We are in the time of remembering the dead and feeling a sense of our own mortality.  These words are a subtheme today.  We speak only of Christ! 
  • He will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation.  Here is our first hint of the Advent season coming.  I speak about our hope, firmly founded, in him.  It would help if my voice sounds firmly founded, too.
  • Climax: But now – once for all – he has appeared (at the end of the ages). 
  • The message for our assembly: This is about Christ.  Let us Christians rejoice.
  • I will challenge myself: To dig deeper, reading it over and over until it penetrates, until I hear the church speaking to me through it.  And let me end on the high note of eagerness as I declare: those who eagerly await him.

 

Gospel. Mark 12, 38-44

  • This is not the dusty border town any more.  This is Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God.  Once again the little ones, forgotten by the world powers and the ‘vecinos principales’ around them, will show us what is pleasing to God.
  • First I hear a biting critique of priestly behavior.  But their actions, going around in long robes, accepting greetings, seats of honor and places of honor, are the same as we read in our gossip columns.  We ourselves may not be above this.  I may read it in a good denouncing voice, but most of my congregation will disagree with me – and with Jesus.  After all, the rich and powerful say that they are also good Christians inspired by Jesus.  Only if I reject such recognition from the world – as we know that Jesus did – can I speak the words in a genuine way.
  • He sat down opposite the treasury and observed.  I recall that the shekels were silver and would tingle or resound when dropped in, depending on their quantity and weight.  They didn’t wrap their offering in a private envelope as we do.  So Jesus could be very unobtrusive in the crowd.
  • Many rich people put in large sums.  I can hear all those dollar coins clanging. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins.  No clanging here, but rather a tinkle or two.  Let me practice speaking it softly and with my lips.
  • Amen, I say to you, this widow put in more than all the other contributors.  Now I hear the lesson, the interpretation of Christ and of his church.  God sees the innermost heart.  They have all – contributed from their surplus wealth.  I gaze upon my assembly especially now, because he said ‘all’ and it applies equally to us, to me as well as you.  The way I say this will communicate to them my solidarity with everyone present.  When was the last time we saw a ‘family of man’ magazine in a waiting room?
  • Climax: She gave out of her poverty.  Does this mean what I think it means?
  • Message for our assembly: How do we measure up?  Whom do we resemble?
  • I will challenge myself: To make the church sit up and pay attention, to be stung by the example of the widow and be converted.  I will not be satisfied unless we have proclaimed the Gospel to each other in this way. 

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