|Readings:|| 1 Kings 17:10-16 Responsorial Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Mark 12:38-44 or 12:41-44
|Date:||November 7-8, 2015 Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B|
As I was getting dressed for church last Sunday I was trying to decide which of the 3 grey sweaters to wear. They are pretty much the same , just some subtle variations in the shade of grey. I thought of that when I was reading today's gospel and it made me think of all the possessions I am blessed with. I have a very nice brand new house with a pool that is pretty big for just Betsy and me, two cars, two 12-string and two 6-string guitars, a reasonable retirement fund, so many computers and android devices that I am thinking of devoting one of them to keeping track of all the others, and so on. After reflecting on what Jesus says about the widow's offering in the Gospel I came to the decision that I am giving away one of those grey sweaters.
I think the Gospel passage we heard today, along with the story of the rich young man who was unwilling to sell everything and follow Jesus, are often seen as stories that mean Jesus wants us to give up everything, and I know from conversations I have had with several people over the years, it can be a source of guilt that we are not giving enough, or we have acquired too much. But I would suggest that today's first and Gospel readings are not so much about giving away everything as they are about obedience.
But obedience is a dirty word in our culture. We equate obedience with being a slave; it is something we drill into our pets. To listen to our culture's understanding, obedience is going along with authority we agree with, and the only justification for obeying an authority we don't agree with is to avoid the consequences.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sure you have heard me say this before: the root meaning of obedience is "to hear". True obedience happens when we trust that someone else can see the truth about something more clearly, or more deeply, or more widely than we can, at the moment. Obedience is at the heart of both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The most fundamental Jewish prayer is the Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one. And from the earliest expressions of what Jesus is all about we hear: Though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
True obedience happens when we are convinced that things are one way, but despite that conviction, we follow the lead of someone who says, "No that's not how it is; it is this way." All you parents and teachers know what I am talking about. When your children are very young there are so many dangerous things that they want to do. They don't understand the danger. All they see is the excitement or the chance to act like a grownup. But if you have trained them to be obedient, then they will be able to avoid that danger. At some point, they will understand the truth themselves and they will no longer have to obey you in that matter because they will know, they will see that truth. Because true obedience is ordered towards ever increasing understanding of the truth, it is the very heart and soul of deep and meaningful faith. We never outgrow this need for obedience because none of us see all of truth this side of death.
So we have to come to the fullness of truth by first acting out of obedience. Both the widow in the first reading and the one in the Gospel story are acting out of obedience. I take heart in this Gospel story and I would encourage you to as well because Jesus notices that obedience. Everyone else is focused on the larger offerings but Jesus notices the widow's obedience. We gather here today and every week out of a similar obedience. None of us can fully understand why Jesus gathers us week after week to enter into his saving work but we came today, didn't we? And Jesus notices that.
I want to close with one more reason obedience is so important to our faith, and that is without obedience it is very difficult to respond to our true vocation. While this is true for any vocation, to be married, to be a parent, to be a teacher, it is even more so for a vocation to priesthood. In our culture, it is very difficult to see the value of devoting a life to service that involves celibacy, obedience to the bishop, poverty of spirit, and so on. So if we are serious about promoting vocations to the diocesan priesthood, I suggest a good place to start is teaching and practicing obedience, true obedience, in our homes and in our community. We can be sure that Jesus will notice and our jar of flour will not run out, nor our jug of oil run dry until God sends the rain on this community.