I Kings 17: 10-16; Hebrews 9: 24-28; Mark 12: 38-44
As Jesus and the disciples now make their final march towards the ultimate battle and war, at the Cross, which we’ll hear in two weeks on the Feast of Christ the King, the gap between what Jesus calls them to as disciples and how they see things seems all but insurmountable. Like us, the disciples too are a product of their own experience and their experience tells them that life has more to do with what the scribes, along with the other religious and political leaders, do than it does with Jesus. All Jesus can do, as he does today, is keep moving them to look at things from a different perspective so that when they do finally face the Cross and the scales begin to fall from their eyes, things will begin to make sense and they will see what Jesus was about all along. It’s hard to change when our own experience tells us something different than what we’re being invited into. There’s feeling attached to it, emotion, and all the rest, that as we’ve seen in our own political and even religious institutions, we can overlook facts and truth all for the sake of holding onto what we think.
Yet, when they make that final march to the Cross, things begin to change and the disciples, like ourselves, are given a choice. They’ve been given a choice all along and consistently reject the way of the Lord, but when their eyes are opened, the choice will become more obvious, do we follow the ways of the Lord, that have been pointed out to us along this journey, or do we continue to consume the ways of the world, often blindly following the political and religious leaders of the day who often feed into that lived experience rather than inviting us into something new, a new way of seeing and a new way of living that isn’t so much about consuming as it is sacrifice.
Jesus, once again today, tries to offer a different perspective by sitting off at a distance with the disciples and simply observe people, people watching as we call it. He knows he can’t force the disciples to see as he sees, but as we’ve heard throughout Mark’s gospel, tell no one. He just doesn’t want it to be some secret. Jesus is aware that they don’t yet understand nor do they see what really matters. They quickly, as we’ve heard these weeks, become enthralled with power, with honor, with wealth, and once again, the scribes prove it to them. The temptation is so strong as they watch. They see how people fall over them and how they manipulate and take advantage of the lesser of their society. So, as only Jesus can do, he observes and contrasts the scribes with a widow, as we also heard in today’s first reading. It’s not just because there was something so special about this particular widow. It’s the fact that any widow of that time has nothing. It’s not even simply about money. She has no status and no voice, no nothing. Yet, she gives the most. As the scribes consume the honor, the power, the wealth, a particular attraction, this woman finds it all in sacrifice, in the nothing that she has. That’s the point to the disciples as they look on. You can have all the given power, honor, and wealth, but it’s not necessarily the way of the Lord. As much as we love to consume, the way of the Lord is often just the opposite, letting go and sacrificing.
As you know, today we mark the 100th Anniversary of the ending of World War I and also celebrate Veterans Day, others who have gone to the ultimate battle. If you read about the world wars, you quickly learn that there was also a very different mindset as a country and people. It wasn’t just the one’s who went off to war who had to sacrifice, and sometimes their entire lives, but there was a call for everyone to sacrifice. Since the events of 9/11, though, our attitude has been quite different. After that and beyond it has been consume, consume, consume. It’s not just things we’ve been challenged to consume, we consume media and social media now that feeds into the lived experience and how we see the world that it becomes harder and harder to change, to let go, to sacrifice. As a matter of fact, the more we consume the more we think we need and the more we feel anxious when we don’t have it all. It’s a consumer mindset that is eventually going to do us in and there will be a price. Like the disciples and their experience of the Cross, it often takes something drastic to move us to change and for the scales to fall from our eyes. At some point we just can’t consume anymore because it prevents us from dealing with the hurt and pain that resides below the surface. The widow faced the cross. Long before Jesus, the widow in the first reading faced the cross. They knew what was most important, in particular when they were pushed to the point of losing it all. The harder we cling, the harder it is to let go, especially of our way of thinking.
Over the past few weeks the writer of Hebrews has been pushing us to change our perspective as well, inviting us to step back and look at what really matters. So often what we see with our eyes is what we think is most important. Jesus himself will go on and speak about the destruction of the Temple, as it too consumes, becomes bloated, and becomes a source of corruption. Hebrews keeps pointing us back to the Christ, that it is that relationship that offers salvation. Don’t cling so hard to what you see because at some point the scales will fall and the questioning and the real choice will be revealed. It appears, at least in plain sight, that Elijah is all about himself as he approaches the widow who’s at the point of death! He simply wants food and drink for the journey as she watches her own son die. Yet, she moves from her own lived experience as widow and still offers a hospitality that by sight seems senseless. Yet, like Jesus, she finds strength and learns to trust even more deeply in those moments. Elijah himself will continue to learn as his journey continues just what it means to be prophet. Like the disciples his time wandering and in the desert will open him to new possibility and to find true power from his own emptiness and longing, sacrificing it all, including his way of thinking, rather than feeding the narrative that had been his lived experience.
At some point, we too are left with the same choice as the disciples as to how we will proceed in life, as individuals and even as community and country. The more we consume what we think it’s all about, the more the gap grows as it did between Jesus and the disciples. All Jesus or any of us can continue to do is invite us to look at life from a different perspective and set up the differences as to what’s most important and what we truly value. Those who have nothing in the gospels point the way towards trust and faith in the God who often cannot be seen with the eyes, especially eyes clouded through our consumption of goods and media and whatever else we think we can’t live without. Like the disciples, though, a day will come and it always comes, leaving us with the choice as we stand at the Cross and look on. Do I choose the way of the Lord, which so often demands sacrifice and letting go to begin to see what really matters or will I continue to blindly follow the ways of the world, the political and religious leaders of our day? It’s a hard choice but God has shown time and time again, there is but one way, the way of the Lord. Today a rich widow simply points the way by giving of her whole livelihood. Are we willing to do the same, even if it means sacrificing what we think is most important in our lives?