Fr. Rudy's Homilies
32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
YOUR ARE WORTH
A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, "Who would like this $20 bill? Hands started going up.He said, "I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this."He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up.He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air. "Well," he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty. Now who still wants it?" Many more hands went up.
"My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. Because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value in God's eyes. To Him, dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to Him.
AS HE WAS standing in the temple watching scribes and other people coming and going, Jesus saw what any of us would have seen: the "religious" with their long flowing robes, and the common people hurrying in to make their offerings. His comments seemed interesting, even amusing, until I realized where I would be located in this ordinary scene and what Jesus would be saying about me.
Let's face it, many of us reading this would be the folk wearing the clerical or academic robes, or other special clothes associated with class and power. We wear them to be noticed, as a mark of our station. "Beware of people like this," Jesus says. "These people who like to be treated with respect, or have the best seats at the dinner parties." Who wouldn't like these perks? Nothing wrong here at least not on the surface.
But Jesus looks beneath the surface of things. He sees things from an entirely different perspective. And he sees that there are costs associated with the distribution of power and wealth that we take for granted. He notes these costs by saying these people "devour widows' houses." What can he mean by this?
Apparently one of the scandals of Jesus' time was the insidious way that the religious establishment served the needs of the wealthy and, in clear violation of the Torah, violated the poor, especially those outside the social structures - the widows. The reference to "widows' houses" could refer to the scribes' tendency to abuse their role as trustee for the estates of widows, or it could refer more generally to the way upkeep of the temple (a house of prayer) "devoured" the resources of the poor. Either way, the practice of praying had become a cover for injustice. What is worse, then as now many involved with the temple were unaware of the way the structures worked against needy people, for the needy were almost invisible. They didn't walk and sit among the scribes and religious leaders.
Again, Jesus sees things differently. Jesus pays special attention to the poor widow whose clothes were unspectacular and who probably was overlooked by almost everyone. Oh yes, many rich people put in huge sums. That would be impressive, and it was meant to be! But Jesus commended the woman who put in a penny. Why? Because the others did it for show out of abundance; she did it for God with "all she had to live on."
The question about both clothes and offerings is the same: What is acceptable worship? What is to be done to be "noticed" and who do we want to notice us? Jesus gives us a clue. The scribes gave in order to make a human impression; the widow gave all she had, revealing that she was completely dependent on God. The scribes located - socially and religiously where I am located - became a negative example of trust, while the poor woman, contrary to cultural expectation, provided a positive example of trust. Here, then, is a vivid instance, so common in the Gospels, of the fulfillment of Mary's song: God has "brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly."
Most commentators on this Gospel passage tend to speak of it as praise for the widow. She gave all the money she had, and so was a remarkable example of generosity. Similarly the widow in the first reading shared all she possessed with the prophet, and also demonstrated extraordinary generosity. Both widows can be seen as images of Our Lord Jesus Christ who gave all for us, even his very life. In this sense the readings show us how radical the Gospel message is. As followers of Christ we are called upon, not just to lead what might be called a respectable life, but to give everything to God. We are to be, not half-hearted disciples, who make all sorts of compromises with the world, but people who find their fulfillment, not in what they have, but in what they are. Instead of hoarding our time and our money, we are called to live generously, putting our trust in God and our faith in eternal life. This is a common interpretation of these passages and it tells us something very important about what it means to be a Christian. There is also, however, another and even more radical lesson here. A Deeper Lesson. There are some commentators on this Gospel passage who argue, quite convincingly in my opinion, that Jesus is not so much praising the widow as he is lamenting the kind of religious culture that encourages people like her to donate her entire livelihood to the Temple. Keep in mind that Jesus has just condemned those scribes who love titles, who seek the front seats in public gatherings, and who desire the praise of others. He accuses them of "devouring the houses of widows." So in that first part of today's Gospel passage he appears to be speaking out against the kind of religious leaders who encourage poor widows like this to donate even what they need to live on. The point is not that Jesus disapproves of donating to the support of the Temple. It is rather that he insists giving to the Church must not come ahead of a person's genuine human needs. We must keep our priorities straight. Remember how, earlier in Mark's Gospel, Jesus defended his conduct when he healed sick people on the Sabbath. He did so on the grounds that human need comes ahead of Sabbath observance. Recall as well that in Chapter 7 he condemned those religious leaders who refused to support their needy parents on the grounds that they were giving the money to the Temple instead; he called this hypocrisy. So today's Gospel reading appears to be emphasizing Jesus' genuine concern about ordinary people and his desire that they be able to satisfy their most basic needs in life. He rejects any sort of religion that ignores those needs. He insists that any kind of religious practice that leads us away from doing all we can to help people live a genuinely human life is false. Such religion dishonours the God who cares deeply about every single person. This Gospel passage also reminds us that, as a Church, we should not find ourselves "devouring the houses of widows." There is a responsibility to support the Church. However there is also a duty on our part as a Church-community to ask why we want that support. If we seek it to pay our legitimate expenses, to support the preaching of the Gospel, and to have something on hand to assist those in need, then all well and good. However if we seek it so we can look rich in the world's eyes, so we can be thought strong and successful as a Church, then we are following the wisdom of the world rather than the Wisdom of God. This world treasures honours, money, influence, and regards them as the signs of a successful life. In every age the followers of Jesus are tempted, like the scribes, to buy into that view. We must not let that happen to us. Finally, today's Gospel raises disturbing questions about the kind of witness we give to our world. All of us need money and we sometimes have to occupy positions of authority. However it is our sacred calling, as a Church-community, and as individual Christians, to be a public sign that the God we serve is the ultimate owner of any money or goods of which we happen to be the temporary stewards, and that this God is a generous Father, not a miser or an uncaring master. We give that witness by the way we use money and authority, and especially by the way we care about the needs of others.
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