Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
Today’s Gospel contains two provocative sayings of Jesus, one of praise and one of blame. In drawing our attention to how different appearances can be from reality, both challenge our ordinary way of judging. People and their real motives and worth are not always what at first glance they seem to be. The scribes, of whom Jesus speaks, are those who were educated in Jewish law and Jewish traditions. They were the theologians and religious teachers of the time. Because of the distinctive nature of Jewish society, theirs was an influence that went beyond what today would be considered the religious sphere.
What Jesus attacks in them, and this is not an attack on all Jewish leaders, is not their learning or their religious office but their spiritual and moral bankruptcy. They are arrogant and haughty men who use their education and status to demand recognition and deference. Even worse, they take unjust advantage of widows. Scribes, as trustees of a widow’s estate, could take a portion of the estate as their fee. The scribes, with a reputation for piety, were often entrusted with this role. With the ability to manipulate the interpretation of the Law to their advantage, the system was rife with abuse.
Secondly, we hear Jesus’ praise as he watches people put money into the treasury of the temple. Jesus comments on the gift of a poor widow. The amount she gives is a mere pittance, practically meaningless, in terms of buying power, and yet, he stresses, it is more than all the others put together have contributed. They have given of what might be called their disposable income, while she has given everything she has. She seems to have been totally unaware of herself and her poverty. Whether the treasury to which she contributed served the temple or the needs of the poor for which it was also used. Her gift symbolized a desire to serve God and others. Jesus interprets her action in no sense self-serving but that it sprang from and revealed a truly generous heart.
The Gospels repeatedly reveal how little Jesus is impressed by appearances and how strongly he reacts to flamboyant (showy) and public displays of generosity or religion. He invites us to pray in the secret of our room and to give alms in such a way that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing! He reminds those who tend to reduce religion to a somewhat legalistic fulfillment of ritual requirements, that what God wants of us is our heart. (Pardon this digression, but this is a real reason why the sacrament of confession, reconciliation or penance, is so important for our lives.)
The story of the widow’s coin is a perfect introduction in Mark’s Gospel for what is to follow. For the Gospel is on the verge of the account of Jesus’ suffering and death. Like the widow, he will soon give all that he possesses, giving in fact, himself. His self-giving continues to be rendered present at Mass in the Eucharist. When we share in Communion we share in this total outpouring of himself for ourselves and others. From this love and this grace, we can learn to give of ourselves.
God Bless You,