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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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Ansgar: The “apostle of the north” (Scandinavia) had enough frustrations to become a saint—and he did. He became a Benedictine at Corbie, France, where he had been educated. Three years later, when the king of Denmark became a convert, Ansgar went to that country for three years of missionary work, without noticeable success. Sweden asked for Christian missionaries, and he went there, suffering capture by pirates and other hardships on the way. Fewer than two years later, he was recalled, to become abbot of New Corbie (Corvey) and bishop of Hamburg. The pope made him legate for the Scandinavian missions. Funds for the northern apostolate stopped with Emperor Louis’s death. After 13 years’ work in Hamburg, Ansgar saw it burned to the ground by invading Northmen; Sweden and Denmark returned to paganism. 
<p>He directed new apostolic activities in the North, traveling to Denmark and being instrumental in the conversion of another king. By the strange device of casting lots, the king of Sweden allowed the Christian missionaries to return. </p><p>Ansgar’s biographers remark that he was an extraordinary preacher, a humble and ascetical priest. He was devoted to the poor and the sick, imitating the Lord in washing their feet and waiting on them at table. He died peacefully at Bremen, Germany, without achieving his wish to be a martyr. </p><p>Sweden became pagan again after his death, and remained so until the coming of missionaries two centuries later.</p> American Catholic Blog Every vocation is a vocation to sacrifice and to joy. It is a call to the knowledge of God, to the recognition of God as our Father, to joy in the understanding of His mercy.

 
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