32nd Sunday in O.T. (B); November 8, 2015
1 Kgs 17:10-16 Ps 146 Heb 9:24-28 Mk 12:38-44
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
If some roving reporter came up to our Lord today and asked, “Jesus from Nazareth: in one succinct sound-bite, what’s your message?” In response, he may have said, “My message is my life.”
Jesus could get away with a statement like this because as the Son of God and the Son of Man (the theological expression for that is the hypostatic union), he is fully realized, fully integrated because He is God in the Flesh! So, the thoughts of his heart and the words on his mouth and the way he lives are in perfect harmony.
As such, Jesus perfectly lives the Great Commandment: he loves God with his whole heart and soul and his neighbor as himself. There is no discrepancy. That’s why Jesus is really attuned to hypocrisy and a lot of his teaching deals with the unmasking of hypocrisy of the religious elite. Yes, they could recite and explain the Shema (cf. Deut. 6:4) until they’re blue in the face and, being learned men of the Torah, they were informed about loving their neighbor (cf. Lev 19:18). But, these teachings that were at the heart of Israel had not taken to their hearts.
How so? Self-love, self-absorption had replaced love for God. They weren’t so much into Faith but the trappings of religion. So, they liked long robes, admiring salutations in the market place, and, of course, the best seats in the synagogue and banquets. When they’d pray, they’d make sure people saw them praying.
Would they love their neighbor? They would if they’d get something in return or were also a member of the privilege class. But, if they were poor, diseased, malformed, or public sinners (read: prostitutes), they’d have nothing to do with them because they wouldn’t want to risk ritual purity.
The result of all this was hypocrisy, pretense, and duplicity. And, Jesus sees right through it.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus has consistently championed human needs over the hardened practices of the synagogue. When he would heal the broken, wounded, and marginalized on the Sabbath, the religious elite went nuts. Now, Jesus is taking on the Temple treasury: the money-making operation that sustains conventional religion. When Jesus is sitting opposite the treasury, that symbolizes that he is opposed to the whole temple atmosphere that is wrapped around money.
So, you have this public affair with the rich parading their large sums into the thirteen trumpet-shaped containers that were set up to collect money for the upkeep of the temple. The sound of the money rolling down the containers must have reverberated throughout the area, announcing the charity of the donor. Large sums made the most noise.
Then the poor widow approaches and divests herself of all her support. She gave “two small coins worth a few cents,” which probably made a thin tinkling sound. But, according to Jesus, this was “all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mk 12:44). By giving all that she needed, her total giving was just like the widow in the first reading from 1 Kings: she gave because she had absolute trust in God. The Gospel passage begins with hypocrisy and ends with genuine piety of the simple and she is the one whom Jesus praises.
This should come as no surprise because up and down the Bible, God takes the side of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the poor. We see that dramatically portrayed in the call of Moses in the Burning Bush episode wherein God tells Moses that He has witnessed the affliction of his people, heard their cry of complaint, and understands full well what they are suffering. And, he sends Moses to liberate them from their oppression. God takes the side of the oppressed!
God’s graciousness to the poor is extolled in the Responsorial Psalm (146). There are a lot of situations in life that can force us to be bowed down: whether it be a mental or physical affliction, an economic or social deprivation, separation from family and friends. Whatever it might be, God raises up the needy, enables them to stand with dignity, and restores them to the security of his embrace. All of this is good reason to praise God.
The widow in our first and Gospel readings have this in common with Jesus: they were willing to give all that they had. Most of the time, we give out of our abundance. Or, we do so out of guilt; maybe we feel some kind of debt that will go away if we give to charity. Or, we do it for tax purposes.
The generosity shown in the readings is a different kind of giving. It is religiously inspired and it comes from those who have the least to give. This kind of giving requires that one go deep down into the inner recesses of their heart and soul, to strip themselves of everything they cling to, and to selflessly give of themselves because they trust that God is with them sustaining them with a love that is boundless. They give themselves away and, in so doing, God fills that empty hole.
Brothers, these stories are about heroic generosity. And, as we stand before these readings, we are challenged to do the same. Amen.