Last night I took part in a celebration of Poland’s Independence. At one point the Polish consul approached. When I was introduced she was really surprised to see a catholic priest from Poland dressed in a kilt outfit. I assume she expected to see a man in a long black robe and a collar – which is a very popular image of a catholic priest in Poland. She was so surprised that she tried to ensure herself once more whether I was a catholic priest. Eventually she asked me who wears traditional priest’s robes in Scotland…
Of course, I’ve got one important reason to avoid for not wearing long robes. You find this in today’s gospel. Listen again: “Beware the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets, […] to swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive”. As you can see, this is not a very promising description, so I try to take it seriously.
Of course, these are external expressions of the internal attitude. We are not called to observe the Bible literally, because many customs have changed since the Scriptures were written. The Bible remains our book of faith; we are called to find the internal meaning of it and apply it to our lives.
The first reading tells us a story about the prophet Elijah and a widow. There was a time of drought and famine. The prophet had lived on the bank of a stream, but when the stream ran dry, God sent Elijah to a widow to maintain him. The first reading starts when the prophet meets the widow. She collects sticks to make the last meal for herself and her son and then they are going to die because of lack of food. Elijah requests her to bring for him a little water and a scrap of bread and passes on the promise given by God: “jar of meal shall not be spent; jug of oil shall not be emptied”. It is apparently a very encouraging promise, but there are a few “buts”: the prophet is a foreigner; he speaks about a promise given by a foreign God (the widow is not a Jew); he demands to make a scone for him at first. This is very risky decision to follow his request. She would lose this little amount of food that she had left.
We also encounter God’s promises that are risky. We hear people calling themselves God’s messengers. They recall the Ten Commandments; last Sunday they recalled the Beatitudes. All these are promises: observe them and you will experience God’s blessing. Sadly, many people nowadays are afraid to lose what they have gained. They prefer to retain the certainty of the little they have than to risk the uncertainty of future achievements.
Let’s go back to the widow from the first reading. She has two options: the first one is not to trust the foreigner, to eat the last meal and die. The second option is to trust the foreigner and his God’s promise, to give him what he demands and … to die sooner than she expects or to survive, if the promise is fulfilled. She takes the risk and as a result of her faith she is saved.
Every day we, like the widow, are in similar situations; we have always two options: to trust God’s promises or to reject them. The decision is yours only.