It is a little hard for me to admit this to you, but my wife and I have trouble listening to each other. Listening is not the right word, maybe it is just that we don’t always hear each other. It is not that we don’t get along or don’t agree on most things, after all we have known each other long enough and been married long enough but we just don’t seem to always hear each other. It constantly amazes me that she will say one thing and I will hear something totally different. And the opposite is true as well, it is as if we speak different languages.
Maybe it has something to do with the men versus woman – Mars versus Venus thing. Or maybe it is just the fact that I’m getting old and my hearing is shot, but it can be hilarious. For example, she will say, “We need to turn right after the next streetlight”. And, I say, “Great, is that this street, or the next one?” Are you kidding me? And that was me asking the question … what part of after the next streetlight did I not understand?
This is obviously not just the two of us, I have been told that this happens with other couples as well. And not just couples; acquaintances, work mates, siblings, friends. The fact is that the English language, actually any language, is inadequate for conveying anything but the simplest of concepts. There is a famous example of changing a sentence’s meanings by simply changing punctuation. In one iteration the sentence reads, “the Giant Panda eats shoots and leaves”. But just by adding comas, it reads “the Giant Panda eats, shoots, and leaves”. The first describes a peaceful vegetarian while the second describes a heartless murderer.
So, what are we supposed to do when we are trying to make sense of the writing in scripture? If my wife and I have trouble conveying the simplest of traffic directions, what chance do we have conveying the intricacies of our relationship with God?
Take the first reading as an example. Elijah is entering the city and he runs into a widow gathering sticks, so he calls out “please bring me a small cupful of water”, this seems reasonable enough and she turns to get it. This starts to feel a little like the Samaritan woman at the well. But Elijah goes on and asks for food as well. And the woman responds by saying that she is suffering, she has nothing and what little that she did have she was gathering the stick to go build a fire, feed her son and lay down to die. Lay down and die? Are you kidding me? So now Elijah is sort of sorry that he asked for the water and biscuit.
The interesting thing here is that the reason that she was so bad off, as matter of fact, the reason that the entire northern region under the rule of evil king Ahab was under a severe drought and famine, was due to the prophecies of Elijah himself. Herein lies the inadequacies of language. Is this reading telling us of God showing Elijah the sufferings of his fellow man? Is the plight of this woman and her son a way of showing Elijah how Gods people need His love and attention? Is it telling us of the generosity of God to his obedient servants? If you follow the Lord ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry”. Or, is this telling us that to those that God loves his mercy will never run short? After all Elijah, the woman and her son were able to eat for a year on God’s providence alone.
Let’s go with the first option for a minute, the one where God is showing Elijah the sufferings of those around him. In Elijah’s time there were people suffering across the entire region. This woman and her son were the rule not the exception and it looked as though Elijah had not even seen this suffering when he asked for the water. Now, Elijah had not had an easy time of it either. Just before his arrival in the city he had been hiding from the evil king and was being fed only by ravens. Yea, the birds. That could not have been very plentiful or appetizing. So, his request for something to eat was not out of privilege but was from necessity.
Was that the message? That often we are so taken up with our own need that we miss other’s sufferings. This woman was on her last leg, about to resign herself and her son to death and Elijah had been eating nothing but worm scraps. Do we turn at the first or second right after the light? Who do we help?
In today’s gospel we hear the story of the widow and her two coins. The reading identifies her as being a widow, so that tells us that she is alone and has no source of income. In Jesus’s time Palestine was clearly a patriarchal society, the husbands provided, and her husband had passed away. These two coins might well have been all that she had, and, like the first story, she may have been leaving her last remaining earthly possessions behind.
Are these two stories reminding us of Gods people around us? Is the person in front of us in the checkout line suffering with her addictions? Is the person walking next to you in town all alone looking for a kind word or simple smile? I do not mean to say that our lives are easy, full of butterflies and honeycombs – hopefully no one here is existing on a raven’s worm scraps – but we are responsible for the condition of Gods people.
Remember, Matthew 25, “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.”
Yes, today’s readings tell us of Gods mercy and generosity, they caution us against earthly accolades, they tell us of obedience, and assure us that God is never far from us, so who is to know what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, today, right now?
I will let you in on a little secret, when I have trouble listening to what my wife is saying to me, I remember who she is. By that I mean, she is my wife (obviously) she cares for me and wants what is best for me and our family. Turning before the traffic light might not have been safe. Perhaps they are all one-way streets and might have had cars coming directly at us.
The same is true for the scriptures, we have to start by remembering who God is. By that I mean He loves us deeply and wants us to love Him in return. Not by sending thank you cards, and birthday wishes (I’m not sure how you would even do that) but by loving our brothers and sisters.
No one knows that the widow with the two coins had just contributed the last of her possessions, by do we want to take that chance. Elijah did not know that the woman was collecting sticks to build a fire for her last meal, but he saw and foretold of the love and generosity of our Lord. ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’
So, don’t worry He will give us all that we need to help those around us, all that we have to do is listen. We have to listen with our hearts.
Mk 12: 38-44
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”
November 7, 2021
November 7, 2021