Friday, 6 November 2015

One Hundred Percent

GospelMark 12:38-44 


In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

  He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’


The treasury gives many the opportunity to give a great deal. There is not one but thirteen pots, shaped like upturned trumpets, some dedicated to a certain aspect of Temple necessities; care for the poor, the widow and the leper; for free will; for incense and for sacrifice. Temple money was made of brass and made a great clatter as it poured into the pots especially if someone wanted their contribution to be noticed. The Jewish canon ruled that the minimum donation was two prutah - two mites.   

The treasury was placed in the court of the women; not a place set aside for women but the limit of the Temple where women were allowed. Like many religious communities today, the Temple relied upon the unseen and unacknowledged for their upkeep. Their money welcome even if they were not. 
 
Jesus is 'people watching'- paying attention to his Father's world - and he sees her; the widow; one of the little ones; the poor ones; the ‘don’t really matter’ ones. Perhaps, as he is watching her, he is reminded of his own mother. Perhaps he is reminded of the scrimping and saving that she had to do maybe before and certainly after Joseph’s death. After all, Joseph was a labourer, long robes would have be useless to him, would have got in the way of his livelihood trying to support a wife and child. A family who should know their place; the comments of those who hear Jesus preach – ‘this is only the carpenter’s son’, ‘only Mary’s son’ – with the veiled addition of ‘who does he think he is?’

Yet his mother and father brought him up to be a good Jew; to know the traditions and responsibilities of his faith; to know them well and not always to accept how they have been acted out. The sharpness of his comments suggests past experience. Jesus teaches his disciples to be circumspect; not to be distracted by finery or assumed importance or status.

Jesus says ‘I tell you most solemnly…’ I love that phrase. It’s a ‘look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m not just  ‘one of the lads’ now’ phrase.

Because, to the ‘lads’ it will have been a little thing; a non-event. Widows give pennies every day, rich men give more – that’s the way the world is; and the world demands its pay. We are encouraged to see success and generosity in pound signs. We find it hard to appreciate that 100% of very little is still 100%.



I suppose it must have been possible for the widow to simply not pay; to avoid the Temple and the treasury itself? Surely it would be better that she had something to eat; something put aside for the rainy day?

 It is through her own integrity that she gives 'all she has'. And if the rich had had any integrity they would have seen their responsibility to take care of her.

 Charity and hospitality is not meant to be about what we can spare -whether time, commitment or money - but in doing all we can to meet need, poverty, loneliness and injustice. Our faith should be implicit in our lives -  not something we can put on or take off; not something we can pay off or be compensated for. The actions of our faith should leave us with nothing; should be all we have and all we are. 

And how often it is the unassuming ones who fulfill this vocation. The media has been discussing the recent influence of Catholic Social Teaching in British politics; aiming the morals and ethics at the directors of businesses and leaders of social organisations. The one who will arrive with 'the' car and 'the' suit and who then will tell the poor how to live. 

Catholic Social Teaching begins in the community and it move up and out from a desire to 'love your neighbour' and it is usually instigated by those who have walked the walk already. How often does Pope Francis remind us of these 'little ones' in his teaching?

 How often the church - and the world-  relies on such people who fit one more thing into their already busy lives; who don't imagine retirement as an opportunity to rest; who believe that sometimes they are the 'someone' who should sort it out. These are the people who say 'yes' far more than they ever say 'no'; who can always fit another minute in the day; another plate at the table; another stop on the way home. 

And, often,  it isn't until the job's not done that they are noticed at all. 

 It’s a compelling thought that, rather than sitting in robes of silk and enthroned in splendour at the front of a church, God actually spends His time at the back and, often, not in church at all. Like his son, he watches in the shadows, noticing all the little goodnesses, sacrifices and graces are carried out by the unassuming, unknown, undervalued ones in the community; who are, in truth,  giving all they have.

wordinthehand2015