“… You have been created for the glory of God and for you own eternal salvation; this is your end, this is the object of your soul and the treasure of your heart.” – St. Robert Bellarmine
Mark 12:38-44: In his teaching he said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’ He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’
Christ the Lord The scribes were the experts in interpreting the Law of Moses (the Pharisees were the experts in upholding it), and the Law of Moses was the heart of Jewish culture; it separated the Jews from all other peoples. Therefore, the people of Israel respected and reverenced the scribes. But Jesus was unhappy with them. Their natural intellectual gifts (the Law and its voluminous commentaries were no Dr. Seuss picture book!) and elevated social function had gone to their heads. Instead of exercising their leadership as a service to the nation and to their neighbors, they were flaunting it to stoke their vanity, increase their comfort, and enhance their reputation. No figure earned Christ’s disdain more than the proud, self-seeking religious leader, because no other figure so disfigures people’s idea of God, and a disfigured idea of God will alienate people from him (as the devil knew even way back in the Garden of Eden). Christ’s entire life, and especially his death, was the proclamation of a different type of religion, and a different style of leadership: a religion of intimacy with God, and a leadership of sincere, sacrificial service.
The scribes felt they were being generous with God by giving him their money, their knowledge, and their talents – all those things they had received from him in the first place. What God truly wants is something different. We can only give the Lord one thing that he really needs and desires: our love. Out of love, we can trust him, like the poor widow; we can seek to know him and make him known. This is the gift most worthy of the Lord.
Christ the Teacher The lesson is plain – no parable here: “Beware of the scribes.” We have seen why the scribes are in trouble (because of their selfish, abusive religious leadership), but why should we beware of them? Jesus knows that his disciples will become religious leaders. Every Christian by virtue of their baptism is called to be a leader of souls, an evangelizer, a prophet of the gospel to the world in word and in deed. Therefore, we will be exposed to the same temptation to which the scribes succumbed: self-righteousness. How easy it is to consider oneself superior to others for all the wrong reasons! Because we are faithful to the true teaching of the Church; because we follow liturgical norms with perfection; because we don’t wear risqué clothes; because we don’t engage in this or that type of behavior; because we say our prayers and go to Mass… if God has kept us so close to him in these ways, can we congratulate ourselves? Rather, we ought to thank him, and all the more energetically reach out to those around us who need God’s grace and are far from it. “Beware of the scribes,” because it is so very easy to become self-indulgently religious, and that’s the first step to idolatry. May God preserve us from becoming scribes like them.
Christ the Friend Some supposed friends are dazzled by appearances. For them, being in the right social circles matters more than deep bonds of trust and love. Christ is not among them. He is not impressed by the flashy shows of the rich almsgivers; he looks to the heart. He looks to our hearts – he wants to find openness there, confidence in God, generosity in following and serving him. The poor widow gave all she had to the Lord, and it was pleasing to him; the popular, wealthy folks made huge donations – that didn’t even make them feel the pinch – in order to pump up their egos. This saddened the Lord. He wants our hearts and our hopes, because he wants to fill them with the meaning and love that only he can give. He wants the gift of our friendship, so that he can give his in return.
The poor widow: Whenever I had any coins left over after buying my daily bread, I always put them in the box at the Temple. What did I want with extra coins? The Lord was my shepherd, and he never took his eye off me. Once when I was a young wife I thought to myself that it might be nice to have a lot of extra money and beautiful clothes and a palace to live in. But then I thought, well, I can’t take any of that with me. And besides, doesn’t the whole world belong to me? Am I not one of God’s chosen people? He is enough for me. He always was.
Christ in My Life Do the people in my life see your goodness reflected in how I treat them? The scribes and Pharisees thought they were glorifying you, but in fact they were displeasing you and driving other people away from you. How could they have been so blind! Lord, I don’t want to be blind. Please keep me humble; please keep me true…
Success in your eyes is so different than success in the world’s eyes. Both ideas of success blend together in my own mind. Make yours win out, Lord, so that I always can love as you love. You are faithful and wise. Never let me fall into the hypocrisy of caring more about my status in others’ eyes than about your status in their hearts…
Thank you for giving me faith and the precious gift of your friendship. This is my treasure. I know you will never take it away. You who placed the stars in the sky and carved out the ocean depths are at my beck and call. Whenever I call your name, you listen to me. What more can I desire, Lord? Thank you. I trust in you. Thy will be done…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on Mark 12:38-44: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Modified detail of Mozes en de tafelen der Wet, de vervloeking van de verwelkte vijgenboom, en de gelijkenis van het penningske van de weduwe (Moses and the tablets of the law, the curse of the barren fig tree, and the parable of the widow’s mite), 1525-1530, PD-US author’s term of life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.