The best of the Church
The contrast between the two scenes cannot be any greater. In the first scene, Jesus puts the people on guard against the religious leaders: “Beware of the scribes.” Their behavior can do much harm. In the second scene, he calls his disciples to take note of the poor widow’s deed: the simple folks can teach them how to live the Gospel
The tough and accurate language that Jesus uses to unmask the false religiosity of the scribes is surprising. He cannot bear their vanity and strong desire to show off. They want to dress up in a special manner and to be greeted with reverence so they may stand out above the rest, impose themselves on them and dominate them.
Religion is good for stoking their fatuousness. They recite “lengthy prayers” to impress. They do not create community, for they put themselves above everybody. Basically, they only think of themselves. They live taking advantage of the weak whom they should be serving.
Mark does not gather Jesus’ words in order to condemn the scribes who were in the Temple in Jerusalem before its destruction, but rather to warn the Christian communities for which he writes. The religious leaders have to be servants of the community. Nothing more. If they forget it, they are a danger to all. One has to react lest they do harm.
In the second scene, Jesus sits down opposite the offering box. Many rich people put in large amounts: they are the ones who support the Temple. Suddenly a woman approaches. Jesus notices that she puts in two small copper coins. She is a poor widow, mistreated by life, alone and without means. She probably lives begging close to the Temple.
Moved, Jesus quickly summons his disciples. They are not to forget this woman’s deed, for “she has contributed all she had, all her livelihood,” even though she is needy herself. While the scribes live taking advantage of religion, this woman gives up everything for others, trusting God completely.
Her deed uncovers for us the heart of true religion: great confidence in God, surprising gratuity, generosity and loving solidarity, simplicity and truth. We only know that Jesus saw in her a model for future leaders of his Church.
Today too, so many women and men of simple faith and generous heart are the best that we have in the Church. They do not write books or preach sermons, but they are the ones that keep alive among us the Gospel of Jesus. We priests and bishops have to learn from them.