Scripture in Depth
Reading I: 1 Kings 17:10-16
Both the Elijah and the Elisha cycles contain miracles involving the multiplication of food, and as such exhibit the literary genre to which the stories of miraculous feedings in the Gospels are conformed. This is their main importance for the New Testament.
The story of the widow’s cruse [an earthenware pot or jar], like the following story of the raising of her son, emphasizes the power of God’s word in the prophet’s mouth. In this story the power of that word is seen in the fulfillment in verse 1 Kings 17:16 of the promise given in 17:14.
Neither of these points, however, has determined the selection of the episode of the widow’s cruse for today’s reading. Rather, she is seen as a widow woman of the same character as the widow with the two coins in the Gospel story. Both widows gave away all that they possessed.
Responsorial Psalm: 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
This is the first psalm in the final group of Hallel psalms. God is praised for his loving-kindness toward the needy, including widows. Hence its selection here.
Reading II: Hebrews 9:24-28
This reading continues the exposition of the high priestly work of Christ in terms of a series of contrasts with the Levitical priesthood. Here are the points made this time, some of them repeated from last Sunday’s passage, some of them new:
Levitical Priest Christ
scene of his work: the heavenly sanctuary,
a material sanctuary God’s real presence
repeated offering (yearly) once for all
offered blood of other creatures offered his own blood
The last sentence of our reading seeks to elucidate the once-for-all character of human death. The reference to the parousia comes rather surprisingly here, but it is probable that all through this passage the author has in mind the ceremony on the Day of Atonement.
After performing his priestly work in the Holy Place, the high priest came out of the temple and showed himself to the people, indicating thereby that the work of atonement had been accomplished.
The parousia likewise will mark the completion of Christ’s high priestly work.
Note that the passages from Hebrews used last Sunday and today feature the two phrases that most clearly indicate the nature of Christ’s high priestly work in heaven: “he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25) and “now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24).
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44 or 12:41-44
The longer form of this Gospel combines two quite distinct traditions: Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and the episode of the widow with two coins.
The denunciation of the scribes forms the conclusion to the series of Jerusalem conflict stories, whose function is to show the widening gulf between Jesus and the Jerusalem authorities, and so to prepare the way for the Sanhedrin’s decision to get rid of Jesus.
The episode of the widow is joined to the denunciation by the Stichwort principle (the word “widow” occurs in each unit). Also, Mark has located the conflicts in the temple, and the story of the widow is located there by its content.
Whether by design or not, however, the two stories, taken together in this way, provide a foil for one another, for the behavior of the scribes is contrasted sharply with that of the widow. Perhaps the story of the widow was used in catechesis to illustrate the duty of almsgiving.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University