Authentic discipleship

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the focus of our Sunday readings turns to the end times and to what is expected of those who claim to be faithful disciples of the living God. As disciples, we are expected to know and live out the covenant relationship that God has initiated and that we have accepted.
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Thirty-Second Sunday
in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 17:10-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Jesus is the norm by which we are to live as Christians. We will be judged according to how we imitate Jesus' values and lifestyle. Thus, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) becomes the constant question every Christian disciple must ask in order to be faithful in his or her discipleship. Today's readings offer us much wisdom and deep challenge.

Psalm 146 focuses on the theme running through the other readings. We are invited to "praise the Lord" because our God is a God of justice who "keeps faith forever." God has entered into covenant with us and asks us to live out that covenant love for others in the same way.

The psalm specifies God's love in terms of "justice for the oppressed ... food for the hungry" and "setting captives free."

The psalm reveals God's job description as the One who "gives sight to the blind ... raises up those who are bowed down ... loves the just ... protects strangers" and sustains "the fatherless and the widow."

The biblical image of the widow is significant. In a patriarchal culture, she had no economic, political or social status, no male to provide for her, and her daily existence was harsh. With no one to speak on their behalf, widows were readily taken advantage of by the greedy and the powerful.

This was also true for the orphan and the alien, or stranger. The psalm and other readings make clear that God is attuned to the needs of these vulnerable groups.

If we claim to be disciples, then we too must attune ourselves to the needs of the powerless, and most especially the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

All the readings exhort us to pay close attention to the concerns of the poor and the powerless. But they also have much to teach us about faith, trust and the risks necessary to becoming God's disciples.

In the first reading from 1 Kings, we encounter an unnamed pagan widow and her son who are in desperate need. She is willing to share their last morsel of food with a stranger. She does not know the Jewish God or Elijah the prophet, yet she is concerned enough for a stranger that she is willing to share from her want.

She risks her own welfare to care for a stranger, and so is depicted as a woman of faith and trust despite almost insurmountable odds. Such human generosity is rewarded a hundredfold by God, who supplies her needs beyond all expectations.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes Christ as one who gave completely of himself for others. For this, God greatly exalts him and blesses all of humanity through him by making Christ the vehicle of God's love relationship with the world for all eternity. Like the widow, Christ is our model of the faith, trust and complete giving of self for others that is the true sign of any disciple.

Mark's Gospel contrasts the attitude of arrogance, superiority and power by some scribes with the risk-taking, faith and trust of the poor widow.

While they lord it over others, she gives not just one of her two small coins but both, everything she has. While they "devour the houses of widows," she entrusts herself totally to God out of concern for others. She is the ultimate example of true discipleship.

A true disciple trusts God's loving care for their needs, while taking up responsibility to care for others. How can we be a similar source of life to people like the widow? At the same time, the poor have much to teach us about faith and generosity as together we journey to God.

[Biagio Mazza received his master's degree in theology and religious education from Fordham University with postgraduate work in scripture and theology at Maryknoll School of Theology. He is adult faith formation coordinator for St. Sabina Parish in Belton, Mo.]

This story appeared in the Oct 23-Nov 5, 2015 print issue under the headline: Authentic discipleship .

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