Theme: Trust in God
Giving is a gentle act best cultivated in hearts willing to give even when there is little to share. Christian discipleship grows strong and vital amid a network of giving and sharing because believers agree that love makes great things happen. Today we are encouraged to share the little we may have.
First reading: 1Kings 17:10-16
Drawing his information from the chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah, the writer has produced a special brand of religious history shaped according to basic tenets and religious presuppositions that: 1-Yahweh rewards faithfulness to the covenant and punishes infidelity. 2- The word of God which had guided Israel from its inception would always be present. 3- Regardless of events such as exile and banishment, Jerusalem and its cult would remain central and the promise of the eternal Davidic dynasty would be fulfilled cf. 2Samuel 7:12-15. That is why the author this book holds with high esteem the kings who managed to lead people well and live righteously. The episode we encounter today involving the widow of Zarephath illustrates the power of God’s word any where; that when it is spoken through a prophet it accomplishes its purpose promptly.
Elijah, by whose word the drought had come down and caused famine threatening the life of the woman and her son, would also have the power to reverse the felt disaster “The jar shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain upon the earth” 1Kings 17:14. This story of the widow and her son serves as a source of encouragement for all of us. We need hope in every thing despite the moral bankruptcy surrounding us. Similarly the character of the widow who offered all she had on her to the Temple Treasury teaches us to trust that God will always provide. Unlike the powers that be, she was not swayed by avarice/greed; instead she stood out to challenge all who fear to share not thinking on the fact that they would not have enough left. This widow of Zarephath teaches us to stop thinking if have to help; but to trust and to have confidence in God who alone knows what may come next.
Second reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
In Jesus’ day, the existing temple was that which had been built by Herod in 19 B.C. upon which decorations continued until 64 A.D. This Temple symbolized God’s presence and home of the official cult reflecting the heavenly model cf. Exodus 26:30. The Temple structure was relatively simply yet hosting the debir/sanctuary where the holy of holies commonly known as hekal/holy place, the only room on this planet with a double-curtained veil was situated. The holy of holies was entered by the high priest only once a year on the Day of Yom Kippur cf. Leviticus 16:1. Dressed in fine linen, the high priest sacrificed two goats for remittance of sin, a ram as a holocaust for the community and a bullock for his own sin. Lots were cast for the two goats in order to discern which one would be for Yahweh and which for Azazel. The blood of the sacrifice would be sprinkled on the sanctuary, the altar and in the holy of holies while the other goat for Azazel would be driven out to the desert. It is from this background that the priesthood of Jesus gets a back up.
Unlike the high priest who entered a “man made sanctuary” Hebrews 9:24, Jesus entered the true sanctuary in the real the presence of God. Moreover, by his entering, he opened the way for all the redeemed also to enter. As the high priest’s work and his yearly term of office concluded on the Day of Atonement, so too, Jesus’ perfect sacrifice would be crowned at Calvary. “He has appeared, at the end of the ages to take away sins” Hebrews 9:26. By his death on the cross Christ brought near those who seemed far making them to begin living a joyful life.
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
In today’s gospel Jesus denounces strongly the attitude of scribes by exposing their shallow wearied behavior, inadequacy, pompous and avaricious hypocrisy because they consider themselves religious elitists while imposing legalism on innocent ones cf. Mark 14:35. In a society where the majority of ordinary people were illiterate, the scribes were a breed apart. Educated and trained in the law, they had spent their decent years building their reputations as experts. Scribes were respected as teachers and sought after for their advice; they were admired by simple people who presumed their behavior was inspired by purely religious motives.
The robe in Mark 12: 38 which the scribes paraded around was intended for times of prayer, when giving a judgment, performing a vow and visiting the sick. An outer garment that distinguished its wearer by its unusual impractical length and volume and the robe flaunted by the scribes were simply for vain self-aggrandizement since they were put on outside ritual moments. Attached to the robe in compliance with a prescription in the book of Numbers 15:38; were tassels whose purpose was to remind the Jews of their responsibilities as God’s people. Obviously, Jesus did not condemn the actual wearing of the robe or its tassels because he himself was known to wear one as he ministered to the sick cf. Mark 5:27; instead, it was the showing off that Jesus censured.
The sitting order within the synagogue had tags of respect attached. The front seats were located directly in front of the ark that contained the sacred scrolls of the law and the prophets. Anyone seated there would be facing the congregation, in plain view of all. These were therefore ceremonial seats, not places for self advertisement. Jesus makes a critique here since scribes would occupy this seat without necessarily having any liturgical ceremony to perform thus classifying the whole setup as search for useless recognition termed as vanity. This same critic points out the pretentious practice of reciting long prayers with aloud voice pretending to force God to hear as if God is deaf. Jesus also airs concern about how the scribes abuse widows and their savings. Who ever thinks is favored by God need to respect the poor and the lowly.
Having thus made short shrift of the scribes who were considered high among the leaders of the community, Jesus then proceeded to praise a widow, a person considered least among members of society in the ancient Near Eastern world. In the Temple’s court were some thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles, each of which was designated for a certain type of offering, e.g., incense, grain offering, oil. While the wealthy people had indeed been generous in their giving, the widow went beyond the generosity and gave all she had. The copper coins in question were lepta, the smallest in circulation. Two lepta were equivalent to one quadrans in Roman currency. In fact it took at least 100 quadrans to pay for a decent meal! The fact that the woman had and gave two is significant. Though a mere pittance, she could have kept one coin for herself and her needs, but she gave all. Mark signals the special and exemplary quality of the woman’s behavior by telling us that “Jesus called his disciples over” Mark12:43 for further instruction. Similar stories and examples were given by other rabbis to their students. In the lesson on the widow who gave her all with utter abandon to God, Jesus taught the final, formal lesson of discipleship to his followers. The ultimate lesson would be taught in the complete self-abandonment on the Cross.
Although the symbols of the illustration here are monetary ones in coins, the lesson goes far more deeply to touch on attitude and motivation. The scribes may have performed great and good deeds; but without a heart conformed to God’s truth, their deeds remained just that, a performance. Although the widow’s offering was observably insignificant, the true value of her gift was of immeasurable worth known only by God. It was this last lesson in discipleship that would help the disciples to understand the value of their calling and the life taking sacrifice that would accompany the true believer. Indeed honest life is a sacrifice that takes everything that is you.
Those of us who seem the least like the widow of Zerephath are encouraged to share from our meager reserves because all we have belongs to God who allows us to be simple custodians. To be rich is not simply to have plenty but the will to be always generous. Those of us who have but are unable to share are still indeed very poor. Christ’s unique sacrifice can never be repeated but only remembered with gratitude, love and fellowship; we who are lucky to participate in it every day should do so diligently. An honor on us for appearance’s sake benefits neither giver nor recipient. We are encouraged therefore to avoid it. What we all need urgently is a spirit of generosity starting from inside so that like the simple widow we can supplement our motivation to what God desires.