In the culture of the Middle East, today as in Elijah’s day, hospitality plays a central role. Elijah’s request for water and a small cake from the widow of Zarephath, was part of the social fabric. In fact, townsfolk would extend an invitation to strangers before a request had even been made. The levitical law echoes time and again: welcome the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Here is one example: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Afterall, there was no Wawa or 7-11 to make a pitstop! But the verse exhibits a deeper rationale: you were once slaves in Egypt, and wanderers in the desert. The people of Israel knew what it was to be homeless and without the same rights as the native peoples, so it is no wonder they protected and provided for those who came into their midst. Today in the Middle East a deep commitment to hospitality pervades the culture, among many different ethnic and religious groups. We Christians inherited this wonderful commitment, although today it sometimes seems we could rekindle that generous welcoming spirit.
The beauty of the encounter of the widow with Elijah is that for the bit of water and bread, for her small and expected gift, she is rewarded with food during the whole drought. Through Elijah, God makes a promise “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” For fulfilling her role, a widow and her son are saved from famine.
A similar dynamic unfolds today before Jesus (Mk 12:41-44). He observes those giving to the temple treasury. While those who contribute large sums catch the common eye, Jesus highlights the widow who gives two small coins. Therein, Jesus recognizes - not the quantity but the quality . Although it appears small, this gift comes from her necessity; it is not surplus wealth but “her whole livelihood,” Jesus emphasizes.
We see the same dynamic elsewhere. Remember what Jesus can do with 5 loaves and 2 small fish? He feeds the 5000! The relatively small gift from the boy becomes enough to satisfy the crowds with 12 baskets left over.
The Lord multiplies these gifts, those given with love, with selflessness, even if they appear small to the common eye. We notice a quality of generosity, perhaps not apparent in the value of the gift itself, but evident in the heart. Saint Paul’s words echo: “The Lord loves a cheerful giver!” (2 Cor 9:7)
Thank you so much for your generosity to our parish, in all the ways you are generous of heart: volunteering, catechizing, visiting the sick and homebound, ministry during Sunday worship, attending a field trip, coaching - there are too many ways to list! And thank you so much for your generosity in our collections. Your generosity is noted and I thank you for it. May the Lord multiply the gifts of generous hearts!