Gospel for November 8th: “Denunciation of the Scribes” and “The Poor Widow’s Contribution”
In the course of his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.
By juxtaposing the “Denunciation of the Scribes” and “The Poor Widow’s Contribution,” today’s gospel provides on opportunity to consider appearances. On first reading, with other gospel passages in which Jesus denounces the scribes, the Pharisees, and the rich, I find Jesus’s lesson obvious: One seeking God should not model his or her behavior after the selfish ostentation of the scribes and the rich, but rather the genuine self-sacrifice of the poor widow. However, on further examination of conscience, I realize that when I find myself among the knowledgeable and rich in my own life, I quickly forget what this lesson demands of me.
I have always been easily impressed by both knowledge and wealth, which are often the indicators of success in our modern culture. When in the presence of a really successful person, I find myself wanting to know what they know or have the things they have so that I may be accepted by this person. I am not even sure that I am seeking the same level of public adoration that these people may have, in other words I don’t want to necessarily trade places with them. However, I cannot deny my need to be included as a friend or peer with this person I admire. In those moments, my mind is not on Jesus or really even on the genuine needs of my successful acquaintance; instead, I am thinking only of me and holding on to some misguided sense of importance or power that I have attached to this person. I have been seduced by an outward appearance that the world adores.
In contrast, I rarely seek the company of someone like the poor widow, nor do I move to help those in her poverty out of anything more than my own surplus. And yet she is who Jesus holds up as a model. Instead of seeing the appearance of powerlessness and despair, Jesus points to her genuine unselfishness. He is calling us to serve others and deny ourselves as the widow does.
So how does one see beyond appearances to find Jesus in unselfishness? Certainly, I think time with Him in prayer, in the scriptures, in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, and in habitual acts of service all help us to avoid the dangerous distraction of worldly appearances. But I think this gospel reminds of another sobering point. Regardless of how others may see us, Jesus sees through those appearances and knows us for our true motivations. He knows the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites, and He knows the widow as one of His children despite her appearance of vulnerability. This understanding deflates our pride and returns us to a proper position of humility. We cannot fool Him; it is futile to try. So, we must resign ourselves to God’s will so that we may know Him who can give us eternal life.