In our Gospel reading from Mark, there appear to be two separate accounts. In the first, we witness Jesus’ critique of the scribes, and in the second, the generosity of a poor widow is emphasized. There could not be a much starker contrast between the two. Jesus points out those scribes with the primary motivation of self-aggrandizement, “who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets” (Mk 12:38-39). They make a lofty show of themselves, yet, what is worse is the following verse. “They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers” (Mk 12:40).
The implication is that certain scribes used their position not to edify, provide care for, and lead widows closer to God, but instead chose to exploit them for their own selfish gain. As Jesus finishes his rebuke of the scribes, he moves to observe those making contributions at the treasury of the Temple. A poor widow donates two coins. No one, except Jesus, pays her any notice. Jesus calls his disciples to him and says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more that all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood” (Mk 12:43-44).
Jesus commends this woman for her generosity. She does not make a fancy show of what she is doing, she quietly and simply gives all that she has. Is Jesus sharing his critique of the scribes just moments before related to this expression of generosity by the widow? Could she have done so through the influence of one of these scribes? We are not told why she gives all she has, but her willingness to do so is clearly on display.
Jesus so often in the Gospels holds up a mirror, especially to those in positions of religous authority who place their focus on themselves, their own gain, and their own prestige, instead of their service to the poor and those in need. Those like Matthew and Zacchaeus, though not scribes but tax collectors, embraced Jesus’ invitation of repentance, were willing to make a 180 degree turn from their old ways of self-service, and instead were willing to change and begin anew.
Jesus, through George Floyd, has been holding up a mirror to all of us this past week. George, when he asked for water while the police officer had his knee on his neck, echoed Jesus on the Cross when he said, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). George also called out for his “mama” as he died, just as Jesus looked down to his mother before he gasped his last breath and said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).
Will we be like the unnamed scribes and Pharisees who were not willing to look in the mirror that Jesus held before them, more interested in supporting their place of entitlement and privilege, and unwilling to change? Will we acknowledge in the death of George Floyd and so many who have gone before him the disparity of equality for people of color in our country and the poison of racism that sickens our society? Will, we as did Matthew and Zacchaeus allow our consciences to be convicted, be willing to repent and rend our hearts so to be moved and more willing to love, so to stand alongside our brothers and sisters in need?
We are receiving a clear message through this pandemic and from Jesus through George Floyd that what affects one of us, affects all of us or as Bruce Lee stated, “Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family.”
Photo: Closeup of a mosaic of Jesus in the apse of the Basilica of St Cosmas and Damien in Rome.