There were indeed many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, yet “it was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath, in the land of Sidon – in other words, to a pagan widow who trusted him. Like the poor widow in today’s gospel who puts into the Temple treasury everything she had, the poor widow in Zarephath bakes from the little bit she has left, a cake for Elijah. This is today’s first reading. There is something immensely touching in Elijah’s reaching out to a pagan woman, and in her trust toward this prophet that she doesn’t even know. The rest of the story is equally touching. Just like the manna provided for the Hebrews in the desert, God provided food and drink for this widow, her son, and Elijah until the famine lifted. In this encounter between the prophet and a poor, pagan widow, and in its echo, the encounter between Jesus and the poor widow at the Temple treasury, we find, in a nutshell, what the Church is called to be: a door to the Kingdom of God, opened wide, to all the poor, inside and outside the Church, bringing them, along with healing, deliverance, and redemption of every kind, the gospel of God. This prophetic encounter between Elijah and the poor widow of Zarephath has been fulfilled again and again throughout the history of the Church.
We are challenged, by the remembrance of this prophetic incident, to keep it alive in our Church today. To be an open Church, a Church that reaches out to all, but especially to the poorest in our Church and in our world, whosoever they may be. What a beautiful calling. Thanks be to God, at St. Mary’s, we are where we ought to be, at least in part. We have street ministry, and Hands of Veronica, and Migrant Ministry, and the Saint-Vincent de Paul, to name but those ministries that come readily to mind with respect to being a hand extended to the poor of every description. But we need to be reminded that this is what we are, indeed, called to be. We need to have this calling etched on our minds, kind of like a search-light, on the look-out all the time, for the poor, inside and outside the Church, who stand in need of our material help, but just as importantly, of our respect, our esteem, our concern, our acknowledgement of them as persons equal to ourselves in dignity and as deserving as we are of well-being. Yes, the need is bottomless. But that’s okay. We are not called to relieve all poverty. We are called to relieve the poverty of the poor of our choice. Any poor, any poverty will do. By the grace of God, may the prophetic gesture of Elijah be fulfilled in some way, shape or form in all our lives, whether it be in our personal lives or as a part of a parish ministry. May we be a part of Jesus’ constant reaching out to the poor during his ministry. May it be our destiny to be told, on the last day: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” because “whatsoever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” Mt 25,34.40
P.S. Fr. Gabriel and I will be away all this week, to participate in our annual Clergy Study Days. The office will remain open, and our pastoral team will be at your service, as always.