Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear All,

The First Reading is from the passage of the First Book of Kings which inspired best selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho to write a fiction novel, The Fifth Mountain. A devastating drought was affecting the region short of 3 millennia ago when we encounter a very poor widow on the verge of dying of starvation. The prophet Elijah who had predicted the drought to King Ahab of Israel, asks the widow at the entrance of the city for water and some bread to eat. She was gathering a few sticks to prepare some bread, probably the last in her life, from the final bit of flour and oil in her possession. Elijah asks her to first bake something for him. Widows in the patriarchal structure of society were one of the most vulnerable groups. Poor and with child brought her to the lowest level of the social order, barely above slaves, with no one to ensure her rights and provide for her welfare. The prophet makes a daunting promise in exchange for the first peace of bread on behalf of God: 'The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry” until the end of the famine. On the brink of starvation she places her trust in the words of the prophet and they are fulfilled. A little side note that magnifies the widows faith even more. We read that this happens in Zarephath, a place in Palestine that at the time of the story was in the god’s Baal territory. Baal was the god of storms and fertility. Even there the famine had stricken. It is difficult to imagine how devastated this poor woman must have been. Yet she put her trust in the prophet’s announcement that God will provide even during the famine. And we get treated to one of the miracle stories in the bible about multiplication of food, when we read at the end of the passage that she, her son and Elijah were able to eat for a whole year until the rain came down to the earth, as “the jar of flour did not go empty nor the jug of oil run dry”.

The gospel according to Mark talks about another poor widow who at the entrance of the temple gave all she had, two small coins worth a few cents. In this passage the story does not focus on the happy ending, but on the teaching to the disciples (and to us) by Jesus upon observing the giving of the crowd into the treasure in the courtyard of the temple. Jesus states that while in economic terms there were many rich people putting in large sums, they were giving from their surplus wealth. Yet the poor widow gave from her livelihood.

The Lord is setting the bar very high for standards of not thinking about self, but focusing on others. The point of the Gospel is certainly not that we should all seek to become poor widows, but it clearly challenges us to give more than of what is left over. Be it care for others, interest in others as well as monetary support to the needy, wherever we encounter them in our lives.

My personal journey on this topic was not easy, yet infinitely rewarding, once I dared to let go. I grew up in an environment where giving, for example to the church, was just a few coins. When we came to the US over twenty years ago, we were challenged with stewardship campaigns and learned about the concept of tithing. Transitioning from an economy where church is funded by government tax money to the US where churches are funded solely by parishioners’ contributions, created great conscience stress at the time. When we finally got around to giving more than a tip to the weekly collection, from moneys that we almost didn’t have at the time, we were blessed a hundred fold with better and more rewarding ways of earnings. This may not be easy, particularly in societies that value personal advancement and satisfaction above all else. Despite it all, we can share our talents with others and we can give our time and energy to schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, church communities and ministries or wherever we are called to. When you come to think about it, sometimes it is even easier to give money than to give ourselves in some of these ways.

Fortunately there are many people in our world we can look up to as role models in generosity, like the widows of this week’s passages are. Many parents willingly sacrifice their own interests so that their children have what they need. There are people who work long hours in healthcare facilities to ensure that the needs of patients are being met. Public servants like police and firefighters place themselves at risk in order to ensure our safety. We encounter the ultimate example of unselfish giving in this week’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews in Jesus who gave his life so that we may have eternal live.

The complete text of today’s Readings can be found at

With God’s Love and Blessings,


For a Print version (pdf file) go to


  1. Thank you Rainer!

    Sunday’s readings really caught me to confirm my process in the need to be unattached. It is very difficult particularly in the current situation. Decisions have to be made and I’ve been going back and forth without really being at peace letting go.

    Pray for me please, I need discernment and strength to follow God’s will in my life whichever it is.

  2. Rainer ... very well written ...

    I'm sure you remember that in Germany 10% of your income tax is withheld as Kirchensteuer? Germany must be the only country in the world that gets away with such a practice ... I guess you would call that "involuntary tithing?" ... :--))