Thirty-Second Sunday, Year B, 7 November, 2021: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
According to The Acts of the Apostles, Mark’s mother was a follower of Jesus (Acts 12:12). Ancient Church tradition understands Mark and his kinsman Barnabas to be members of the priestly clan; perhaps they were disenchanted with the priestly establishment they knew too well, following Jesus as a viable alternative. But these early Christians continued to worship in the Temple (Acts 2:46) and a large group of priests (Acts 6:7) joined their ranks; clearly the Temple cult was lacking something for these faithful Jews.
Today’s passage, which honors the prodigal generosity of a poor widow, is introduced by a criticism of those satellites of the Temple establishment, the scribes, who devour the houses of widows. Is it far-fetched to read an implied criticism of the Temple that, without hesitation, would take all this widow had to live from as her contribution? Why doesn’t the Temple reach out to support her?
The perennial tragedy is how a religion, which genuinely enshrines and communicates God, can also, through its own negligence and compromises, disfigure that God.
The Jerusalem Christians shared their resources (Acts 2:44-45) leaving no needy widow unsupported, doing what the Temple failed to do. But Acts also describes the first Christian swindle by Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11); and so we go from there to the various forms of clerical abuse, ecclesial alliances with politicians, high finance and prestige. Yet we can still gather as that same Church to celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ, the Risen Lord among us.
Whereas Jesus challenges the inconsistencies of his religious leaders, lay or clerical, his criticism appeals to conscience, inviting conversion. The focus is not himself, his influence or ideology but the inconsistency. Never denying what is off-track, he remains faithful and obedient to his inherited faith, its rites and officiants. Holding together within himself the tension of the contradictions, he witnesses to the truth of the covenant, while submitting to his religious leaders even to the point of death.
That gives me, at least, solid orientation in the polarized climate of today’s Christianity. Specifically, never deny the problems, but holding the contrary tensions within myself, admit my own inconsistencies. Attempt to witness to truth by the way I live. Keep the conversation going, as Jesus did, and cut off no one, searching for the common ground; when love is lacking in my frustrations I do not yet have anything to offer. I must take responsibility and bear the consequences of whatever I say or do.
Most of all I need humility and obedience as my foundation. Should I identify the issue correctly, am I necessarily the one through whom God would work? And even if God wants to work through me, don’t I need to get out of God’s way?