32nd SUNDAY(B) November 7, 2021
1 Kings: 17:10-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9: 24-28; Mark 12: 38-44
by Jude Siciliano, OP
St. Mark tells us that one day Jesus was teaching in the Temple. What was he teaching? First, he severely criticized the pretense of religious leaders who looked holy and were respected as they walked around in public. But they were guilty, he says, of "devouring the houses of widows" – as they pretended to say lengthily prayers. They could "devour the houses of widows" because a widow might entrust her finances to these learned scribes for safe keeping, only to be swindled by them. Or, widows might go to these legal experts with problems, but the widows’ opponents, who could pay, got favorable judgments, not the poor widows. And so, Jesus criticized the scribes whom, he says, "devour the houses of widows."
The widow in our story is sometimes used as an example for fund-raisers. Their pitch goes, "See how generous this poor widow was, can you give more for our appeal? Can you be as generous as she was?" Well, Jesus was not a fund-raiser. He was not using the widow as an example of sacrificial giving to stir generous giving on our part. He had just criticized how widows were being taken advantage of. Now he can point to a trusting widow as an example of what he was saying. Did God really want her to contribute all she had – her "whole livelihood?" Wouldn’t God want her well-being and protection from dishonest scalpers, who might keep her few coins for themselves?
Jesus is doing what he always does in the gospels. What catches his eye and draws his heart are those in most need: those who need forgiveness...those who, as in the case of the widow, need someone to take their side, speak up for them, counsel and protect their interests.
That day, as Jesus sat in the temple precincts, what impressed him? What caught his eye? Not the superficial things that impress so many in our world. Not the expensive clothes of the prosperous. Not the high social standing of those scribes. Certainly not their religious airs. Nor the way those scribes, the legal experts, treated widows. Jesus saw what others would have missed, a poorly dressed, sad looking woman with grief written on her face, coming to the Temple. Perhaps she was one who would have been elbowed out of the way to make room for the prominent, well-known benefactors, with gold and silver in their money bags. The widow wasn’t important.
Jesus got up from the place he was sitting and called his disciples. The teacher had a lesson for them. He wanted his disciples to observe what he had observed. Not all the gold and silver in the Temple, not the elaborate priestly vestments and the large books of prayer. He wanted them to take note of the widow. It they were to be his disciples, live his way of life, then the needy and the neglected must come first in their eyes. They were also to see how pure her intentions were as she came to worship God. Among all the so-called religious people there that day, the widow was the one with true religion. She, not the scribes, was the important religious figure in the story. She, not the scribes, was honored by Jesus.
Some people wonder about the things they do in this life. A mother of three asked, "Am I really born to be a housewife and mother? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important?" A man asks, "Did I really come into this world to be a truck driver?" A young woman wonders, "I work in an office. Was I meant to sit in front of a computer all my life?"
Fill in the blanks, because what might to us seem ordinary even, on some days, insignificant, might not be the way Jesus sees our lives. Remember how Jesus described the widow: doing a simple act of love was more important than anything anyone else was doing in that impressive Temple, with all those so-called important people around. We could miss the holiness and significance of our own daily offerings in service to God, family and neighbor. We pray for a renewed gift of the Spirit to open our eyes and ears to see and hear with Jesus’ own eyes and ears
Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem where he, like the widow, is going to give his whole life in worship to God and service for us. In fact, Mark has been showing that Jesus has been giving his life throughout all his ministry, as he: gave his healing touch to the desperate leper; comforted the father and then cured his son rolling in a fit on the ground; fed the crowds who followed him into the desert; tirelessly engaged in arguments with the religious leaders who hounded him, etc.
Jesus’ teaching about the hypocrisy of some religious leaders in his day, might cause us to squirm as modern Catholics, as more and more bad news comes to light about some of our religious leaders. Mark’s gospel is a cautionary tale for us in the church, especially our leaders, ordained and lay, charged with ministering to the faithful.
I don’t know if Jesus had perfect eyesight. If he had lived to my age would he need reading glasses? Some people think he had a perfect body because he didn’t suffer the effects of original sin. But today’s gospel tells us that Jesus used his eyes well. First, he saw those scribes and their hypocrisy. He also saw with a heart filled with compassion and with a keen sense of what was right and what was wrong.
The widow was no stranger to Jesus, because he would see in her what he himself was doing all along: he too had been giving all that he had and would continue to do so, till he gave all of his life for us in Jerusalem. We receive Jesus at this Eucharist so that, like him, we can give our lives in service to those he was always pointing out to us, as he did for his disciples – the least in our midst.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: