Who is king? Who is the Lord?
These questions are answered by Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom of God. The answer is God.
The questions may be asked in another way which may give us more opportunity to internalize God’s kingship. Who is my king? Who is the Lord of my life?
The readings for today’s liturgy help us to ponder these questions. Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, inviting us to see God as the ultimate ruler. He is the Lord of life; all things come from him and are subject to him. All things are given to mankind to care for and to use for the glory of God and the good of all.
Life itself is a gift. We are the recipients of all these gifts, and as such are stewards or caretakers of all the gifts. When we use them properly and for the good, God is praised. When we view our lives, the relationships we share, the goods we possess or use, and the world we live in as gifts, our outlook on life itself is transformed and our citizenship in the kingdom of God becomes more realized in our lives, in the church and in the world.
Jesus speaks of two distinct but related issues in today’s Gospel: the teaching on worldly authority or power, and the teaching on sacrificial giving. First, Jesus warns of the hypocrisy of the scribes. He says they seek positions of honor while neglecting the care of widows. They are so taken up with their own authority that they forget where that authority comes from and whom they serve. The care for the widow, orphan and alien are specifically and often mentioned in the covenantal law, God’s law. The scribes are not only neglecting this responsibility; they even “devour the houses of widows, and as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.” Their worship is empty and superficial because they fail to remember that God is the King. If they served God, they would not treat the widows, or themselves, in such fashion.
Second, Jesus mentions the poor widow’s contribution to the treasury, saying that she gave more than all the others because “they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” The widow gives while trusting in God, confident that the Lord will provide for her. She does not know when or how. The specifics are not important to her, because she has God as her King. She gives out of her need, not of her excess as do the “rich people” who “put in large sums.” Her poverty is not a poverty that binds and limits because she views life in broader terms – in terms of the kingdom and its King.
Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount in The Gospel According to Matthew with “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Perhaps Jesus had this widow in mind when he proclaimed that beatitude. Jesus is not teaching on poverty here but on the Kingdom. He invites all to enter, rich and poor alike. While the world claims that wealth brings life and should be pursued at all costs, the widow reminds us that true wealth is something entirely different.
The first reading has a similar emphasis. The story is that of the widow of Zarephath. She and her son are destitute; all they have left is a handful of flour and a little oil. When the prophet Elijah approaches and asks for a cupful of water and a bit of bread, she explains her situation. “Do not be afraid,” says Elijah, “for the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘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.” What did she do? She trusted in the Lord God. She gave Elijah the bread and water – and “she was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well, the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.”
Psalm 146, which serves as the responsorial psalm, proclaims the goodness of God who “keeps faith forever.” He is the one who will provide for our needs. When he is king in our lives, the things that might weigh us down, inhibit us, or cause us anxiety or fear are lifted. They might not always go away, but they are robbed of their power to destroy, deflate or discourage.
Jesus invites us again to live as citizens of the kingdom of God. He is the Lord of life, and he offers that life to all. When we accept his gift, our lives are transformed — perhaps not in a way visible to the world, as with material wealth, but in a way that is nonetheless real, wonderful and amazing.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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