Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 11: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 7, 2018

Learning from the widow

1 Kgs 17:10-16; Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44


In any culture and at any time, the widow is a poignant figure. Even in circumstances where a woman has good health and financial security, the term widow evokes a sense of loss and solitariness.

All the more so in traditional cultures, where because of the death of her husband, the widow loses an important connection to the clan and becomes dependent on her children and on the kindness and generosity of others for her welfare and protection.

That is certainly the concern about widows in the Scriptures, including both the first reading and the Gospel selection for this Sunday. God cares for the vulnerable, the Bible insists, and the widow and the orphan are classic biblical examples of those God favors. 

This is the familiar assertion in the response Psalm 146 for today: “The Lord keeps faith forever and secures justice for the oppressed … the fatherless and the widow he sustains.”

In the reading from Kings, we learn about a widow of Zarephath (located in present day Lebanon) and her unusual encounter with Elijah the prophet. This is a story that Jesus himself recalls in his first public address in the synagogue of Nazareth (see Lk 4:26). 

We sense that this widow, too, is vulnerable. Elijah sees her “gathering sticks” to make a fire in her stove. When the prophet asks her for a “bit of bread” she confesses that she has hardly any food left for herself and her son. Her despair is evident. After they have eaten the last of their rations, “we shall die,” she says.

Nevertheless, she does not refuse Elijah’s request and uses the last of her provision to prepare a meager meal of water and bread. She is rewarded for her generosity by miraculously being given provisions that will last at least a year: “the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.”

A poor widow is also the focus of the story found in Mark’s Gospel for today. Jesus warns his disciples about the scribes who thirst for marks of respect in the market place but, meanwhile, “devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.” 

Jesus alerts his disciples to the widow’s generosity because she has put in more than all the others because she makes a sacrificial gift, “she has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

There is a curious connection in both biblical passages between the vulnerability of widows and their capacity for exceptional generosity. Despite their poverty and presumed fragile state, widows are capable of strength and virtue — more so than those who have an abundance.

It is often true in the Gospels and in our contemporary world that people without an abundance are rich in generosity and courage.

We have examples of widows like this in our recent history. It was the mothers and widows of the Plaza de Mayo in, Buenos Aires, Argentina, who, on behalf of their “disappeared” husbands and sons, exposed the brutality of the military regime. In case after case, it has been the mothers and widows of those who have been unjustly killed in our poorest neighborhoods who have become the courageous and relentless demanders of justice. 

The dignity of widows in mourning has often reminded the rest of us about what it means to respond to loss with grace and strength.

The Jesus of the Gospels consistently displays his compassion and respect for those on the margins whose goodness and generosity are often overlooked by others. Those who are vulnerable and poor have their own dignity and are capable of great virtue. 

As Pope Francis has said many times, we should not only care for the poor and the marginal, but also learn from them.


  • scripture