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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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Jeanne Jugan: 
		<p>Born in northern France during the French Revolution—a time when congregations of women and men religious were being suppressed by the national government, Jeanne would eventually be highly praised in the French academy for her community's compassionate care of elderly poor people.</p>
		<p>When Jeanne was three and a half years old, her father, a fisherman, was lost at sea. Her widowed mother was hard pressed to raise her eight children (four died young) alone. At the age of 15 or 16, Jeanne became a kitchen maid for a family that not only cared for its own members, but also served poor, elderly people nearby. Ten years later, Jeanne became a nurse at the hospital in Le Rosais. Soon thereafter she joined a third order group founded by St. John Eudes (August 19).</p>
		<p>After six years she became a servant and friend of a woman she met through the third order. They prayed, visited the poor and taught catechism to children. After her friend's death, Jeanne and two other women continued a similar life in the city of Saint-Sevran. In 1839, they brought in their first permanent guest. They began an association, received more members and more guests. Mother Marie of the Cross, as Jeanne was now known, founded six more houses for the elderly by the end of 1849, all staffed by members of her association—the Little Sisters of the Poor. By 1853 the association numbered 500 and had houses as far away as England.</p>
		<p>Abbé Le Pailleur, a chaplain, had prevented Jeanne's reelection as superior in 1843; nine year later, he had her assigned to duties within the congregation, but would not allow her to be recognized as its founder. He was removed from office by the Holy See in 1890. </p>
		<p>By the time Pope Leo XIII gave her final approval to the community's constitutions in 1879, there were 2,400 Little Sisters of the Poor. Jeanne died later that same year, on August 30. Her cause was introduced in Rome in 1970, and she was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2009. </p>
		<p> </p>
American Catholic Blog The people who know God well—the hermits, the prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a manipulative mother, but a lover who is more than we dared hope for.

 
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