32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
This Sunday in our Gospel story we hear about the widows mite. Mark sharpens the lesson Jesus gives, by linking this incident with what he has to say about ‘scribes’ who ‘swallow the property of widows while making a show of lengthy prayers’. The situation of widows was insecure. The ‘scribes’, so often mentioned in the gospels, were interpreters of the Law of old Israel they were the lawyers of the day But beneath their exterior religious garb, they were rapacious and in many respects just didn’t give a damn as long as they had what they wanted. The widow, on the other hand, reveals the true religious practice of those who have little, but express great trust in God to provide for them.
Jesus makes a series of charges against the scribes. He criticises their habit of wearing distinctive dress, which marks them as different from others and is calculated to win people’s deference. He criticises their habit of taking the places of honour at religious and civil functions. He criticises their habit of long-winded prayers, made not to God but to their immediate audience. Finally, he denounces their practice of exploiting helpless widows by living off their savings.
In contrast to the counterfeit piety of the scribes, Jesus honours true piety in the generosity of the poor widow. The pious frauds who abused their religious status could take a lesson from a woman who had no status in their religion or society, a poor widow. The two small coins make up the total of her resources. She could have kept one. She doesn’t. Her generosity cannot be bettered. For Jesus, true generosity is measured not by what people give but by what they have left after they give. The poor widow leaves herself with nothing. She cannot give more, for she has nothing more to give. In Jesus’ estimation she is a mighty widow.
We, need to listen to Jesus’s words. We are tempted to preserve our systems and benefit from what they give us: standing in the community, predictability, stability and a blessing of the status quo. The church’s history also reveals how we have blessed armies that invaded and enslaved indigenous peoples, preached slavery and oppression. Our religious apparatus has tended to side more with Caesar and with the economic and political world that belongs to Caesar. Jesus condemns those individuals and institutions that benefit from the burdens put on the poor. He said previously in Mark (11:17) that the Temple had become a den of thieves and not a house of prayer.
He predicted it would all come tumbling down. Today’s passage illustrates why this destruction was inevitable, because those in the temple were corrupt. Every day demands are made on us. We are called on to be generous with our love, our forgiveness, our patience, our resources. The good news is that when we do that out of love, Jesus will be our constant support through the good and bad and happy and sad times which we often find ourselves in.