1Kings 17:10-16; Mark 12: 38-44
There are different ways we can approach this gospel this weekend. There is the obvious contrast between the poor widow and the scribes in the first half and the differences of faith. Of course the scribes are called out once again for their long robes, flashy style, and so often self-serving faith as opposed to the poor widow, whom Jesus describes as giving from her poverty, her whole livelihood. All of that is true and one approach to what’s going on.
The other is from the perspective of Jesus. Bear in mind, we missed a week last week because of All Saints so we skipped Mark’s gospel but he has now entered into Jerusalem so the whole mood is beginning to change as we quickly approach Christ the King in two weeks and wrap up Mark’s gospel for the year. In between his rant on the scribes and the image of the poor widow, Jesus is sandwiched, simply sitting opposite the treasury and observing how the crowds put money into the treasury. As we approach the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins to take a more passive role than he had done before and begins to slow down. Not in the sense of how we understand passive, in terms of doing nothing or not necessarily caring, but rather as suffering with and for the world and for the reality in which he is experiencing, what becomes the norm. In some ways, another approach to the gospel and Jesus is one of lament for what he sees and turns it into a teaching moment for the disciples.
Think about it. He never scolds those putting in money, even if they are giving from their surplus, he’s simply observing it all happen. It’s something we all have a hard time doing because we’d rather react to the situation rather than step back, observe, and respond in a way that brings about grace. So here he is in the middle of it all watching what’s going on. He sees what we’d often see even in our own day, that corruption remains, abuse remains, people taking advantage remains. When humans are involved, there’s going to be suffering, especially if we aren’t observing it in our own life and responding to it in a different way, suffering with the world.
But along comes the poor widow. After all he has seen, she comes along and offers hope in the midst of what he sees going on around him. In the midst of the reality is this woman who shows faith in a different way, from the place of poverty, her own livelihood, where she can trust something deeper and yet bigger than her at work. It’s no longer a message to the larger crowds that are now gathering in Jerusalem, but rather calls his disciples aside to now begin the invitation to a deeper call. They have witnessed all that Jesus has done these past months that we’ve heard in Mark’s gospel. They have seen and witnessed to the healings and so many other things that Jesus has done. But now, as the moment begins to arrive, doing won’t be enough. That’s a good place to start for the disciples. But now, in this place of suffering with and for the world, they will be called to seek a change of mind and heart and to begin to embody the message of Jesus beyond actions.
We can say something similar in this first reading from Kings today where we encounter the other poor widow, that God is the observer, suffering with and for this woman and her son. From there, it seems rather absurd that Elijah would come and make such a demand to be fed and to be given drink. Here’s a woman who’s down to her last meal for her and her son and yet, she goes with it. There was something different about Elijah and this woman. In some sense, they respond from their own place of poverty, of the Spirit calling from within, that God will transform what can be a disastrous situation into a moment of grace for all of them.
Jesus does that with the disciples as well. Despite the fact that he observes all of this going on, Jesus takes what has become the norm and ordinary, what is to be expected, and turns it into a moment of grace for the disciples. As the now come quickly to the reality of the Cross, they are going to be led to their own place of poverty and grow in trust and a deeper faith that goes beyond action and now rather comes from that place of poverty, their own livelihood. As I have said many times, much of these readings aren’t usually about the ordinary and what can be seen, but it is taking the ordinary and the seen and transforming into the extraordinary, into moments of grace. Isn’t that what we experience each time we gather here, in ordinary bread and wine, in ordinary lives like our own?
As we approach these final weeks of the liturgical year, we move toward the Cross with Christ and in Christ, encountering a God who continues to suffer with and for us, lamenting, in what we have often called, the norm, seeking transformation and change. We pray we may step back and observe the evil in our own lives and which we participate, and pray for the abundant grace of the Lord to transform us into His extraordinary grace.