8 November 2015: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

 Reading 1  Response  Reading 2  Gospel
 1 Kgs 17:10-16  Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10  Heb 9:24-28  Mk 12:38-44

Scribes and widows: what God sees

After last week’s celebration of All Saints, we return to Ordinary time. The Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with teachings from Jesus’ ministry. This week Jesus instructs his disciples about the difference between what humans see and what God sees.

The first reading from the Book of Kings is the story of Elijah and the widow. God has sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath. There he asks for food from the widow at the city gate. The widow has only enough flour and oil to make one last meal. Still Elijah asks for her food, promising “the jar of flour will not go empty; the oil jug will not run dry.” The widow feeds Elijah, and miraculously is able to feed her son and herself for a year from the jar and jug. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of the widow’s generosity and her faith that God would provide.

The second reading continues the letter to the Hebrews. The author contrasts Jesus’ sacrificial ministry with the high priest’s ministry. The high priest enters a “sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one.” In Exodus, God instructs Moses to build a sanctuary (the Tent of Meeting). This earthly sanctuary is a copy of God’s heavenly temple. The high priest enters an earthly sanctuary, but Jesus enters the heavenly sanctuary to intercede with God for humans. The high priest enters every year (“many times”), but Jesus enters only once (“at the end of the ages”) to take away sin. Humans die, but Jesus will return to bring salvation.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and continues teaching. Responding to the scribes’ hostile questions, Jesus denounces their behavior and praises true religious action:

  • The scribes’ outward show of piety: The scribes, Torah experts, showed off their social standing by their dress (“long robes”), reserved seating in the synagogue, and head-table seating at social events. Because the Torah forbade taking payment for rabbinical teaching, some scribes developed questionable ways to make a living–charging legal fees, managing estates (“devouring the houses of widows”), or simply sponging off benefactors. Their self-aggrandizement at others’ expense will bring them “severe judgement.” Jesus condemns these scribes’ behavior.
  • The widow’s true piety: The temple had thirteen offering boxes, each topped with a brass trumpet-shaped collector. Large silver coins made a loud sound when they hit the brass funnel–this is how Jesus knew that “the rich were throwing in many coins.” The widow, who in Jewish society had no inheritance or income, gives two small, light, brass coins worth together less than one cent. Jesus notes that while others give from their abundance, the widow gives everything she has (“her whole life”). Like Elijah’s widow in the first reading, she relies on God to provide; Jesus praises her faith.

This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider why and how we express piety. Are we all about show, using good works to gain praise and respect from others? Or are we concerned only that our inconspicuous generosity benefits others? What judgement will our behavior bring?

—Terence Sherlock


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