Dare to change
Today’s readings: 1 Kings 17, 10-16; Hebrews 9, 24-28; Mark 12, 38-44.
The two widows in today’s readings must have a particular significance for what the scriptures want to tell us. We know that a widow had a very low and poor status in society, yet through both of them God speaks more eloquently than He does through Elijah or through the representatives of official religion in the gospel.
The central theme of the readings today focusses mainly on the need to be daring or to risk in faith, to venture even far from the man-made traditions and sanctuaries, as the letter to the Hebrews says. In their book The Faith of Leap, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch write that “Followers want comfort, stability, and solutions from their leaders, but that’s babysitting”. It’s time to steer away from infantilism in religion.
In today’s gospel, Mark caricatures the scribes as unfit for discipleship because of attitudes that are antithetical to Jesus’s instructions to his own community. Scribal practice was after privilege and status and true religion is allergic to that. Mark brings in also his class consciousness, contrasting the many rich who contributed from their abundance and the poor widow putting in two little coins.
There are some who interpret this text as Jesus’s condemnation of the ills of official devotion, seeing the religious authorities of his day as abusive where simple folk was concerned. Jesus is particularly irked by the fact that like the scribal class, the temple no longer protected widows but exploited them.
His stance in all this is not simply admiration of the widow’s humble, discreet and simple gesture, though of course he acknowledges that it is these gestures that make of us interiorly rich people. But he also points fingers to the way religion was depicted and lived. This should be an eye-opener even for us today.
When it comes to temple obligations, we steer off from simply admiring those who contribute poorly. Instead, we prefer to be surrounded by the rich who contribute from their abundance because at the end of the day it is thanks to them that our projects materialise and our dreams come true.
So we need to let today’s scriptures interrogate us. The scriptures are always provoking, and we need to beware from becoming immune to these provocations. This is how prophecy is emptied of its inner power. This is how, in the words of the letter to the Hebrews in the second reading, unconsciously or consciously, we continue to rest and build our faith on man-made sanctuaries.
The more religion remains bound to the man-made sanctuary, the less it provides the lead in the lives of people to the “actual presence of God” that manifests itself in the temple of the heart. Entering the heart of God’s mystery remains always the major challenge for our faith and it may render futile our embellished temples and our pompous liturgies.
In the Elijah episode in the first reading, it was again through a foreign widow from Sidon that God made manifest His benevolence and that what the Lord had foretold through Elijah came true: “The jar of meal was not spent, nor the jug of oil emptied”.
God’s promises provoke us to be daring, to trust where trust is next to impossible, to remain disciples where belief seems exhausted.
Soren Kierkegaard writes that “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose one-self.” Jesus calls followers that are daring, otherwise we end up simply in search of little consolations.
It is an acknowledged fact that any healthy, growing system needs to move toward that point in its existence where it is under threat and forced to rediscover its inherent logic. This is the point where Christianity stands today, in need to rediscover its inherent logic freed from the grip of centuries-old traditions and institutions that are bound to social status while failing to see the workings of God in the daily fabric of simple lives.