OF THE CHURCH
The contrast between the two scenes couldn’t be stronger. In the first, Jesus puts the people on their guard against the religious leaders: «Beware of the scribes!» – their way of acting can cause a lot of damage. In the second scene, he calls his disciples to take note of the action of one poor widow: the simple people could teach them how to live out the Gospel.
The harsh and accurate language that Jesus uses to unmask the false religiosity of the scribes is surprising. He can’t put up with their vanity and their eagerness for showing off. They look for special ways of dressing and being greeted reverently in order to rise above the rest, impose their authority, dominate.
Religion helps them feed their conceit. They offer «long prayers» to impress. They don’t create community, since they put themselves above everyone else. Basically they think only of themselves. They go about taking advantage of weak people, the very ones they ought to be serving.
Mark doesn’t recount Jesus’ words in order to condemn the scribes who lived in the Jerusalem Temple before its destruction, but in order to put on their guard the Christian communities he’s writing for. Their religious leaders must be servants of the community. Nothing more. If they forget that, they are a danger for everyone else. The communities must react so that such leaders don’t cause them damage.
In the second scene, Jesus is seated in front of the treasury. Many rich people are putting in important quantities: they’re the ones who support the Temple. Then along comes a woman. Jesus observes that she puts in two small copper coins. She’s a poor widow, mistreated by life, alone and without support. She probably goes about begging near the Temple.
Moved within, Jesus quickly calls his disciples. They mustn’t forget the action of this women since, although she’s in dire straits, she’s «put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on». While the scribes take advantage of religion, this woman gives of herself for others, trusting completely in God.
Her act describes for us the heart of true religion: great trust in God, surprising gratuitousness, generosity, and a love built on solidarity, simplicity and truth. We don’t know this woman’s name or what she looks like. We only know that Jesus saw in her a model for future leaders of his Church.
Even today so many women and men of simple faith and generous heart are the best we have in the Church. They don’t write books or proclaim sermons, but they’re the ones who keep alive among us the Gospel of Jesus. It’s from them that we priests and bishops ought to learn.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf