32nd Sunday of Year B (2019)
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month one hundred years ago hostilities ended. The guns fell silent, and the bloodiest conflict in the world's history up to that time, with the most casualties, the greatest carnage, the most widespread devastation, ended.
The pitiless insistence of the victors to humiliate and impoverish the conquered, to ensure, they said, that such destruction of men by men (and it was men in power who made the decisions) to ensure that such devastation would never happen again, had the opposite consequence. The Treaty of Versailles led, almost directly, to the rise of National Socialism in Germany and with it, the ascent to power of Adolph Hitler and his cronies with their maniacal, murderous policies, and so the world descended into war more devastating with greater waste of life and destruction than the first World War.
It is the ordinariness of the combatants that should ever astound us and earn our admiration. Men (and some women) taken from their humdrum occupations, from the toil of the everyday, people no different from us – look at the names on the roll of honour in the porch; people who had no grievance with those on the other side, people who had little understanding of the causes of the conflict, plunged into an outer circle of Hell.
“It will all be over by Christmas” was one sign of the lack of perception of the nature of this war, a new style of combat no longer confined to foot soldiers and cavalry in a limited space. Tanks and heavy artillery, aeroplanes making an uncertain entry, and more devastating armaments than ever before employed to ensure mass annihilation. No one knew what Ogre was being released by vain and massive egos whose sense of their own invincibility was matched by the severe limits of their short-sightedness.
It happened and it happened again and little was learnt. There is no assurance that it will not happen again, on a greater scale with more widespread, more complete destruction. Massive egos and blinding myopia are devilish companions.
In today's Gospel-passage, a widow gives to God 'all she has' – a fitting image for today's commemoration for those who gave their all, willingly or not, in a cause they believed, or not, was right and just. Since the two coins was 'all she had to live on', are we to conclude that she then went home to die? That may be what Mark, the evangelist, expects us to think. We have now arrived with Jesus in Jerusalem. The final days of his life are running their course towards the end. In Chapter 3 we heard that some authority figures ere seeking to destroy him. Now in Jerusalem they are looking for their opportunity. Death is in the air. Perhaps we are to think that the widow, like Bartimeus, is one of the true followers of the Lord, a disciple; such a contrast to the fickle and failing Twelve.
Mark, however, might be expecting us to have in mind the widow whom Elijah met in a town in Sidon. This is the episode we heard as our first reading so we are directed to make the connection. The prophet has, at God's command, invoked a drought to show to the wicked King Ahab of Israel and his wife, the notorious Jezebel, that Elijah's God, the One God is all-mighty; and the god they worship, Ba'al, god of rain, has no power, is an idol a no-thing.
Liker war, a power conflict between the high and mighty, even when an unequal struggle, inevitably harm to the poor and powerless.
The widow is about to bake a loaf,her last, and then die with her son. The little she has she shares with the prophet and her reward is life – no lack of meal nor oil until the rains fall again. Did the Gospel widow gain such a reward?
Mark's story has an ambiguity of interpretation that war seldom allows. War is stark and brutal, and seldom achieves what its perpetrators desired. And the cost is always huge. Every single life lost, taught the Jewish sages, is a world destroyed. So many worlds ended in the conflict whose conclusion we remember today.
Today we live again in dangerous days when the world, our home, teeters close to conflict as bloated egos and myopia again threaten to come together in demonic and destructive alliance.
Today's second reading helpfully reminds us that Christ, our High Priest, also gave his all, dying for us in his once-and-forever sacrifice of the cross. Hid giving of himself in humble submission to the Father gives meaning and sense to every sacrifice freely made, and is our assurance of ultimate, lasting peace.
His sacrifice re-presented in the Eucharist, is our hope. Our hope that the guns will fall silent and melted down, never to be restored. In our Peace Window, Christ comes down from Heaven, Priest, Prophet and King. The New Jerusalem appears, inaugurating the New Age of Peace. In the lower left hand corner, swords are piled to be turned into ploughshares, instruments of war transformed into tools for farming. Death gives way to life. Men no longer learn war; and peace will flow like a never ending stream.