Nov 10, 2012

32nd Sunday: "Put in your two cents"

"Two small coins . . .
Kg 17:10-16
Hb 9: 24-28
Mk 12: 38-44

There is a well-known expression that goes: “Put your two cents in.”  It essentially means that I have an opinion about something that I would like to share. My “two cents” is that belief.  It may be worth hearing and contributes positively to the conversation at hand or it may be just blowing off steam or a bit of conceit on my part. Talk is cheap but actions speak louder.

The Gospel (Mk 12: 38-44) this Sunday is a story about an observation Jesus made in the Temple. As he comments on the bombastic arrogance 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 the houses of widows . . .” Such an overt attempt at self-promotion is to be rejected as a warning to Jesus’ crowds.

Meanwhile, at the treasury, Jesus notices a scene that likely went unnoticed by most of the crowd.  A poor widow, whom most would have simply ignored, stands in line behind the rich people who put in “large sums” of money.  This anonymous woman puts in “two small coins” and moves on. Her action spoke to Jesus.

Our Lord uses this as a teachable moment about the true value of generosity: “this poor widow put in more than all the other” since she contributed “from her poverty . . . her whole livelihood.” Her two cents was not an opinion about politics, religion, culture or anything in particular. She said nothing but became a powerful contrast between those who give for public notice and those who give out of trust.

The scribes who Jesus criticized were not bad men as such. Their position was both religious and civil among the Jewish population.  They wore distinctive clothing that would reflect their position of responsibility among the people.  It isn’t the clothing they wear that Jesus warns against.  It is their love for power and prestige that becomes detrimental to their spiritual health and makes them poor examples for the people they serve. Let’s face it – they loved being who they were and they attempted to soak it for all it was worth.  It brings to mind the famed saying of the fun loving Pope Leo X (1513): “God has given us the Papacy so let us enjoy it!”  And he did indeed. We don’t need leaders like that! Such poor example of responsibility is scandalous.

So, Jesus uses the occasion of a simple anonymous widow, who clearly gave more due to her sacrifice, to teach about generous trust of the Lord.  The widow, frankly, had nothing to lose. The bit of money she had remaining was nothing compared to her needs. Perhaps Our Lord read her heart as to what may have been an act of faith. “No one is here to provide for me so why not just give it all to God and trust in him” she may have thought.  

The scribes loved to be noticed for their generosity.  Putting in many coins one by one and slowly as to linger as people passed by. The widow gave her two cents quickly and walked on ignored by the crowd while Jesus knew that this put her in an even more vulnerable position. But her action was used to speak a lesson to all Christians.

Jesus criticizes the brightest, the most knowledgeable, and the most influential leaders of the people in a way that likely stunned the crowd.  It often doesn’t take long to see though a person’s hypocrisy or love for prestige.  Yet, the crowds didn’t dare say anything publicly about their true feelings. There might have been a few “right on Jesus!” comments under the breath of the powerless when they heard of Jesus’ comparison. We too need to remind ourselves.

That God and the poor, dependent, helpless, vulnerable, and truly humble have a special relationship of love. That when we voluntarily swallow our pride or our own desire to be noticed and recognized and turn to the Lord, we are heard and loved in return.  

For myself as Pastor and Priest, despite the scandals of the last few years, there is still a certain innate respect among most Catholic people for their priest. Any priest could be tempted to seek special “seats of honor.”  After all, we do on occasion wear long robes and sit in a special place of honor during our Eucharistic liturgies.  If I take myself too seriously, I would be no better than those Jesus criticizes. Just slap me (gently) if I appear a bit over the top now and then. It is ultimately the self-giving of the widow and the ultimate example of that self-sacrifice in Jesus’ death and resurrection that is the model for all Christian disciples. Try praying for your enemies or someone who simply doesn’t like you for whatever reason.  That can be true humility. Such an action would not go unnoticed by a merciful God.

Like the widow in our first reading from the Book of Kings, who showed honor to the prophet Elijah with the little she had, so too do we bring whatever we have not for our own glory but for deeper trust that our reward from God will come in ways we may not expect.

These readings are good as we have just come off of a very contentious political battle for the American Presidency.  No candidate for that exalted position can remain silent but he/she must likewise realize that the authority to govern is ultimately from God alone. The ugly word spoken in political commercials or between candidates is an unfortunate part of the political game. And we may wonder, “Does he really believe that about the other guy or is this just to make himself look better?” 

In the end, the call of the serious Christian must shame the proud, the bombastic, the power seekers and self-promoters in favor of a life that contributes to society in a way that is positive, humble, and in right perspective with our God.

So, the next time you feel like putting in your two cents it might be good to ask just exactly why.  Is this honor for God or honor for me?

“So let us give back to the Lord the gifts he has given us. Let us give to him who receives in the person of every poor man and woman. Let us give gladly, I say, and great joy will be ours . . .” 

St. Paulinus of Nola (355-431)