1 Kings 17, 10-16; Heb 9, 24-28; Mark 12, 38-44.
Today’s gospel is the climax of St Mark’s delegitimisation of Judaism’s dominant religious class. Jesus shows how in God’s true sanctuary, everything is relative, even the authority of those who claimed absolute control over others. The attitudes and behaviour of the scribes listed by Jesus are antithetical to his instructions to his community about being ‘last’ and ‘servants’.
Considering the harsh words Jesus uses, we may argue that he could have been a bit more prudent or diplomatic with them. The fact that he does not mince words shows how sensible Jesus was where true worship of God is concerned and confirms that for him, religion, to be authentic, condones no compromise.
His point is that scribal piety has been debunked and that those who held power in the social and religious context of his time, actually commanded no authority at all. Jesus gives weight not to external piety but to genuine interiority, and St Mark depicts this in the contrast between the scribes and the poor widow.
This point is highlighted in today’s second reading from Hebrews where we read that Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary. This inaugurates the new times when what mostly counts is interiority. This marks the radically new way of relating with God, the absolute novelty with Jesus. Our religion, which should reflect the beauty of life, at times becomes suffocating and too heavy with all the extras that have been dumped on it since its inception.
From time to time, overhauls are needed in all aspects of life, religion included. God’s mystery dwells not in man-made and embellished temples, but at the core of creation and in the depths of the human heart which is sealed with His own image and likeness. It is there where the deepest meanings of things should be sought and can be discerned.
The heart is the measure of things religious. It is only there that God can be contained. This is succinctly portrayed in today’s gospel narrative with Jesus discerning religion at its best not in the officialdom of the scribes but in the humility and poverty of the widow. This actually echoes the basic messages of all the Gospel when Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor” or “The true worshippers of God are those who worship him in spirit and in truth”.
The two widows portrayed in the first reading and in St Mark represent God’s mysterious presence at its best. The first reading speaks of “the jug of oil never emptied”, and the gospel of the widow who, out of complete trust, “puts in all she had to live on”. Two marginalised women who demonstrate how God manifests Himself at the margins, not at the centre.
We often experience weariness with what is happening at the centre, with how our preaching distorts the sacred, and how our liturgies become symptoms of a void of meaning. When the Gospel causes no discomfort with the way things are around us and in our churches and when our practice of religion hardly challenges the way our lives are organised, then there is something wrong somewhere.
This is what Jesus is accusing the scribes of when he tells them that “they devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers”. Jesus Christ stands for something radically new. So much of what we do and tolerate as religious is only the old style of religion which Jesus is condemning, and it has actually nothing to do with the Gospel.
It’s high time we open our eyes to this, otherwise Jesus would still be pointing fingers to us as just a new breed of the scribes of his day.
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