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 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 finished his rebuke of the scribes, he then observed those making contributions at the treasury of the Temple. A poor widow donated two coins. No one, except Jesus, noticed. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “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.
Often in the Gospels, Jesus holds up a mirror, especially to those in positions of religious authority who place their focus on themselves, their own gain, and 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.
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 be unwilling to change? Or, 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 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.” If one among us is hurting, we are all hurting. We can do better to help one another.
Photo: Closeup of a mosaic of Jesus in the apse of the Basilica of St Cosmas and Damien in Rome.