Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Mass Readings


“I have nothing.”
“The jar shall not go empty.”

Nothingness and emptiness – is there a difference? Nothingness brings to mind a sense of desolation and darkness. Emptiness isn’t so bleak; something empty can be filled: my car’s on “E”, but I fill up at the gas station. Although we may describe situations interchangeably as nothingness or emptiness, they have different meanings for Christians.

Our first reading recounts the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. The context is that the Jewish people left the true God to worship idols, coupled with the rich exploiting the poor. So, the prophet Elijah informs the king there will be a drought until they repent. Then Elijah flees to pagan lands where he meets a woman who’s both a widow and a single mother. (Widows in the ancient world were the poorest of the poor.) Next Elijah does what? He asks for water in a drought! He asks for food from a woman scraping by! He wants to take the last bit of food from a starving child!

Despite Elijah’s tactlessness, the widow responds with a matter-of-fact answer characteristic of someone too drained to get mad anymore. Elijah counters: “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose… For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty nor the jug of oil run dry.’” And, just as the prophet foretold: they ate for a year! The widow didn’t have nothing, rather she had an emptiness the Lord filled.

The example of the Zarephath widow is an example of self-emptying. Christ points out this model for His disciples as a lead-up to his Crucifixion. The parallel is obvious: you reap what you sow, sparingly or generously. Thus, we as Christians are to pour ourselves out in time, treasure, and talent – not from leftovers, but from what costs us. And yet, pouring yourself out is a lot to ask when so much is demanded of you as a parent, employee, and just a human being who needs a break. In fact, the widow looked at her means and was prudent, temperate, just (to her duties to her son), and faced the situation with fortitude – these are the cardinal virtues we can come to by human means. Yet, Elijah called her to what was perfected in Christ: faith, hope, and love – the theological virtues. These do not preclude looking at situations rationally. They do, however, inform a higher set of values and the ability with grace’s help to sustain difficulties in the present. We can give from our sustenance in the face of inflation and uncertainty because God will not be outdone in generosity.

Reflection by Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB

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