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Bible Reflections View Comments

How Do We Look to Outsiders?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
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“As the Lord your God lives.” With this exclamation, the widow of Zarephath sets the tone for her encounter with Elijah, the great man of God. She was not an Israelite. Elijah had no claim no her charity or her soul. She was not part of the covenant. And yet, she responded as though she was. In fact, her response was far more generous and immediate than that of most Israelites to the message of the prophets through the centuries.

The widow of Zarephath begins with only a vague notion of who God is, but in her neediness and her humility, she was living closer to the heart of God than many who knew the Torah by heart. Elijah, who had been wrestling with the kings and leaders of his people, must have found as much nourishment from her attitude as from the small cake she offered out of her meager supplies.

In the Gospel, Jesus warns the crowds about the hypocrisy and corruption that can creep into the leadership of any group, even a religious organization. Before the touching example of the widow giving her last two coins to the temple collection, he pointedly condemns those religious leaders who get rich on just such sacrifices. The actions of both widows have one thing in common. Both display a trust in God that puts more conventional spiritual types to shame. Giving all that they have to live on is admirable not because God wants people to be destitute, but because God wants people to put their trust in him rather than in the things of this world: Money, weapons, fortresses, power. Letting go of power is a hard lesson for those who have it.

Widows and orphans in Old and New Testament times represented those who had little support from society. They were left on their own to make their way as best they could in a society in which the men of the community were the sole support and protection for their families.

While we are no longer living in that kind of overtly patriarchal culture, we know all too well that single mothers and their children still struggle far more to survive than most others in our society. And far too often they’re condemned by the men (and women) who have more than they need.

It’s not surprising to hear about poor people giving generously of their time and even their meager resources to help others. They know what it is to be in need, and they know that they can do something to help, even if it’s not much.

Learning to trust is a lifelong task. But again and again the Scriptures teach us that trust in God is at the heart of our lives. Letting go of a little of our economic security is a difficult but rewarding way to begin to do this, especially in a culture like ours that puts so much emphasis on wealth. Elijah and Jesus hold up as examples those outside the conventional power centers. They themselves were often on the wrong side of power and authority, but perhaps they had greater influence because of that very fact. They knew that being one with the people mattered more than being rich and famous. Their good works carried more weight than their elegant words. And even outsiders recognized them as people of God.


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James Oldo: You’ve heard rags-to-riches stories. Today, we celebrate the reverse. 
<p>James of Oldo was born into a well-to-do family near Milan in 1364. He married a woman who, like him, appreciated the comforts that came with wealth. But an outbreak of plague drove James, his wife and their three children out of their home and into the countryside. Despite those precautions, two of his daughters died from the plague, James determined to use whatever time he had left to build up treasures in heaven and to build God’s realm on earth. </p><p>He and his wife became Secular Franciscans. James gave up his old lifestyle and did penance for his sins. He cared for a sick priest, who taught him Latin. Upon the death of his wife, James himself became a priest. His house was transformed into a chapel where small groups of people, many of them fellow Secular Franciscans, came for prayer and support. James focused on caring for the sick and for prisoners of war. He died in 1404 after contracting a disease from one of his patients. </p><p>James Oldo was beatified in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog Charity for the poor is like a living flame: the more dry the wood, the brighter it burns.


 
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