Humility and sacrifice are two virtues that one would often find in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus teaches about discipleship. Jesus often warns His disciples about self-righteousness, pride, and vanity and how these could lead a person away from God. With this in mind, we can begin to understand why Jesus was often at loggerheads with the Pharisees and scribes of His time. They gloated in the power and authority that they exercised and even used them to oppress others. It was similar to what we see in our society today where people use their honorific titles to take advantage of people and situations – people use their “titles” to assert power, authority, and gain favours while those with none are left by the wayside.
In the first part of the Gospel today, we see Jesus obstinately rejecting the vanity, ambition and the obsession to dominate demonstrated by the Scribes. Jesus reproaches them because they often exhibited their superiority and liked to walk about in long robes in order to let people know that they belonged to a “higher category”. They did not wait to gain respect from people but “demanded” of it from them; they expected others to make sacrifices while they saw themselves as having the right by virtue of who they were. Certainly the “show off” attitude of piety did not impress Jesus.
Sitting opposite the treasury, Jesus watched people giving their benevolences to the Temple ministry, he saw rich people making a show of their generosity. They gave big gifts in a big way so people would take notice. Having just reprimanded the Scribes, Jesus seizes the opportunity to use the event of the widow’s offering to teach His disciples at greater length. The widow who put in “two small coins” is being praised by Jesus. Jesus took no notice of the big donors, but saw this poor widow make her way to the treasury.
Unlike the others there, what Jesus sees is not the amount of the gift that pleases God but the disposition of the widow’s heart – her heart was in the “right place”. What the widow offered may not have made a difference in the Temple’s coffers but she gave, mindful of how good God has been to her and this was her sign of affection. Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407 AD) says: “God does not appreciate the smallness of the gift, but the greatness of the affection with which it is offered.”
Unlike the Scribes, this widow did not have long robes or a purse full of money. But what she had was the generosity of heart that which the Scribes did not possess. In fact, Jesus recognises her total detachment and confidence in God’s providence. The Scribes wanted the approval of the people, but what this widow wanted was God’s approval and indeed she received it.
The world that we live in often glorifies power, authority, titles, and even what connections a person has – things that we can easily use and even misuse to gain the approval of people. The Gospel today reminds us that it is better to have God approve, than the world applaud: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by Him” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Gospel today is very clear that God’s approval is not in material blessings but rather in the sacrifices that we make for the kingdom of God.
Sadly, I have heard this Gospel being used to raise funds for the Church. The account about the widow’s offering in not about how deep your pockets are but about how big your heart is towards God and your neighbour. That is why when Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, He did not hesitate to lay down the foundation – to love God with one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind… you must love your neighbour as yourself. As disciples we must demonstrate the following: faith in God, love for God, love and care for others. When we genuinely try to do these, we have His love and approval.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (7 Nov 2021)