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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

32nd SUNDAY (B) NOVEMBER 11, 2018

1 Kings: 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9: 24-28; Mark 12: 38-44

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Sometimes I stumble over a detail in a biblical story and as a result, have trouble entering the rest of the passage. In today’s reading from I Kings, the detail that distracts me is the prophet Elijah’s request for water and bread from the Zarephath widow he meets at the entrance of the Gentiles city. He sounds privileged and indifferent to her desperate situation. There was a drought in the land and as a result she has only a bit of flour and some oil to prepare a final meal for herself and her son. After they eat, she says, "we shall die."

Despite the fact that she is in a miserable situation, Elijah tells her to go ahead and gather sticks for her fire, "But first make me a little cake and bring it to me." Then he tells her she can take care of herself and her son. Really! Isn’t that seeming-insensitive request enough to make you want to quit this prophet and find a more amiable one? Hasn’t Elijah any sensitivity to the widows desperate situation? Is it possible to redeem the prophet’s reputation?

The world of the story is so different from our own. There was a strong culture of hospitality. So, a stranger was to be welcomed and fed, even at great personal cost. Elijah receives the hospitality of the poor widow and assures her that because she has trusted him and his God, she and her son will have enough to eat and drink until the drought ends.

Elijah is a Jewish prophet, the woman is a Gentile. Yet, unlike the belief of the day that limited a nation’s gods to national boundaries, Elijah’s God has no such limits. The widow trusts the prophet and his God, despite her beliefs and dire situation. The vulnerable and needy receive help from our compassionate and just God. That is the story of the Bible, and today we have more examples of God’s noticing and reaching out to those who need God the most. The story of Elijah and the widow takes us to the gospel, where we meet the same God of love, who notices the least and the neediest.

The plight of widows is mentioned twice in the gospel today. Jesus has entered Jerusalem with his disciples. This is his last ministerial appearance and teaching before his passion and death. The solemnity of the moment puts extra emphasis on the message and importance of his last words to the crowds. Widows were among the most vulnerable in society and Jesus turns his attention to them today.

First he criticizes the scribes who were his virulent opponents. They were respected religious authorities and were among both the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were admired for the sacrifices they made to worship and serve God, and were respected teachers of the Scriptures. Scribes were also revered as intercessors with God. How shocked then Jesus’ disciples would have been at his criticism of them as power-hungry hypocrites.

Because scribes were so respected when a husband died his widow might entrust her inheritance to a scribes’ care. There were scribes who cheated and misused these funds and that is why Jesus says they "devour the houses of widows." The very ones who should have defended and protected the rights of widows took advantage of them. Jesus’ critique reflects the prophets’ critique of injustice done against the poor and voiceless of the land. In addition, he accuses the scribes of using the Temple for their own profit.

Jesus notes the rich donating money from their surplus, while the poor widow "from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." The Greek literally says the widow "gave her whole life." Since this passage comes before the passion Jesus’ words take on special meaning for disciples who, like the widow, are asked to give their all to follow him.

How many church fund raisers have used the widow story as a pitch for larger donations? After all, the argument goes, the widow gave all she had for God’s work. The one making the pitch challenges, "If the poor widow gave so much why can’t we increase our giving?" The implication is that we should give until it hurts. Sounds like the fund raiser has good gospel credentials to back him/her up – the very words of Jesus. Isn’t that why Mark is narrating the widow’s tale, to call us to copy her generosity? It’s possible.

But perhaps Jesus is lamenting what he sees. The widow’s action follows immediately on his critique of the scribes who profit from their status and "devour the houses of widows." It is a warning about those leaders in ministry who bask in their own significance and live comfortably off the backs of those they serve. In recent years there have been revelations about nationally famous preachers who live extravagantly from the mail-in donations of their followers. We have also learned about some of our own bishops who have built extravagant homes for themselves and pastors who have remodeled rectories that, in the eyes of their parishioners, seem extravagant. Not counting expensive meals out and high class vacations.

But the readings today don’t let any of us off the hook. They call us to imitate God’s hospitality and examine how generous we have been in offering ourselves to God’s service – especially to the least and overlooked, like the widow who would not have been noticed by anyone else but Jesus.

Baptism has given us the eyes of faith. We might ask ourselves: Do we see with Jesus’ eyes the poor around us? Are we aware of their living conditions? What are the causes of poverty in our community? In the struggling nations? What can I and my church community do to address these conditions and improve the welfare of the poor?

Like the widow Jesus is about to give his whole life into God’s hands and his death and resurrection will empower us to do the same. Today’s Psalm response to the first reading proclaims:

"The Lord keeps faith forever,

secures justice for the oppressed

gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets captives free."

There’s more to Psalm 146. It will make a good prayer for us as we seek to see with God’s eyes and respond to what we observe this coming week.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111118.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink. . .a bit of bread."

1 Kings 17:10-11

The widow who fed Elijah with her last food should inspire us. Heroes, we realize, do not center their lives on themselves. The Church asks us to model our lives using stewardship as an approach to life, which is not just a matter of giving money. It is centered on living out of gratitude. When you receive a gift, don’t you respond? What is your response to God’s gifts?

The U.S. Bishops have written a pastoral letter on stewardship "To Be a Christian Steward" and excerpts follow:

1.What identifies a steward? Safeguarding material and human resources and using them responsibly and generous giving of time, talent, and treasure. But being a Christian steward means more. As Christian stewards, we receive God's gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others. . .

2.People who want to live as Christian disciples and Christian stewards face obstacles. In the U.S. and other nations, a dominant secular culture. . .frequently encourages us to focus on ourselves and our pleasures. . .

3.Called to be Stewards of Creation--The Bible contains a profound message about the stewardship of material creation: God created the world, but entrusts it to human beings. Caring for and cultivating the world involves the following: Joyful appreciation for God-given wonder of nature; Protection and preservation of the environment; Shielding life from threat. . .

4.Called to be Stewards of Vocation--Each one of us—clergy, religious, lay person; married, single; adult, child—has a personal vocation. God intends each one of us to play a unique role in carrying out the divine plan. . .Christ calls each of us to be stewards of our God-given personal vocations. . .

5.Called to be Stewards of the Church--All members of the Church have their own roles to play in carrying out its mission [of proclaiming and teaching, serving and sanctifying]: As parents, who nurture their children in the light of faith; As parishioners, who work in concrete ways to make their parishes true communities of faith and vibrant sources of service to the larger community,. . .who give. . .time, money, prayers, and personal service according to their circumstances.

We are called to live a life of gratitude as a Christian steward.

To read the entire summary: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/stewardship/index.cfm

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

"A poor widow also came and put in two small coins

worth a few cents."

Reflection:

Jesus notes the rich donating money from their surplus, while the poor widow "from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." The Greek literally says the widow "gave her whole life." Since this passage comes before the passion, Jesus’ words take on special meaning for disciples who, like the widow, are asked to give their all to follow him.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Are we aware of the living conditions of the poor around us and the causes of their poverty?
  • What can I and my church community do to address these conditions and improve the welfare of the poor?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Jeffrey N. Duke #0113234 (On death row since 9/26/3)
  • Linwood E. Forte #0133102 (10/8/03)
  • Scott Allen #0005091 (11/18/03)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:  http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

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3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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