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Sunday Scripture: Called to be heroes

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

By Terrance Callan

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

We are inspired by stories of heroism, such as that of St. Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die in the place of another concentration camp inmate who had been condemned to death. We are inspired though we may doubt that we could display such heroic virtue. But we too are called to give all that we have to God, not holding back even what we need to keep ourselves alive and relying on God to sustain us.

In the reading from the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus points out to His disciples a widow who is making a contribution to the temple treasury. Her contribution, worth only a penny, is much smaller than the contributions others are making. But Jesus says that she has given more than anyone else because she has given all she has.  Implicitly, Jesus asks us to be like the widow, giving to God all that we have to live on.

The reading from the first Book of Kings tells a story about another widow who gave all she had. In the midst of a severe drought, the prophet Elijah came to Zarephath and asked a widow to give him some bread. She told him that she had only enough flour and oil to make a last meal for herself and her son, after which they would die. Nevertheless Elijah asked her to share with him what she had left, promising that God would supply her with food until the drought was over. And so it was.  This story says explicitly that the widow gave away what she had in reliance on the providence of God, something that may be presumed in the case of the other widow. The story also shows us that giving everything to God includes sharing what we have with those in need.

Confronted by this call to give ourselves completely to God, we instinctively hold back; we doubt that we are capable of such heroism, perhaps because we doubt that God really will take care of us if we attempt it. But the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews comes to our aid, assuring us that we can rely on God.

The passage is part of an elaborate comparison of the death and resurrection of Jesus to the observance of the Day of Atonement in the Jerusalem temple. Each year on the Day of Atonement the high priest would bring the blood of sacrifices into the sanctuary of the temple in order to take away the sins of the people. But the death and resurrection of Jesus far surpasses this. In His death and resurrection Jesus brought His own blood into the heavenly sanctuary to take away sins once for all.  And the passage adds, He will come again to complete the salvation that He has begun.

This excerpt from the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus has already given himself up completely for us, and that He has already obtained for us what we most need — peace with God and hope of eternal life. When we reflect on this, we may find it possible to give everything to God, trusting that He will take care of us. God will finish what He has started in us.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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