November 9, 2009


This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. – Mark 12: 43

Like all great literature, Scripture provides varied interpretations that may or may not have been in the mind of the author. This verse is one of those instances. We usually take away a moral of heroic generosity of one who had next to nothing but gave it all to God anyway. There is nothing wrong with that view. But recently I came across another interpretation that I thought worth sharing with you because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

To put this incident in context, let’s go back to the beginning of today’s Gospel. It says, “Beware of the Scribes … who devour the houses of widows &, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.” These Scribes were all part of the Temple-religious complex that, like the old Tammany Hall or Enron or Congress, had grown corrupt. They had their lobbyists, bribes & scandals. It was an open secret, yet people could do little about it. Some, like the Essenes, had moved out to the environs of the Dead Sea so as to be free of the taint. Others, like our Lord, stayed & gave passive resistance.

Could it be that He was sitting opposite the Treasury in silent protest? Could it be that He was doing a sit-in just as He is obviously watching who is putting what in? What if the words about the widow were not words of praise but words of lament? If so, Jesus may have been angry that this devout woman was unwittingly putting her livelihood into a system in which the Scribes devour the houses of people like her so they could buy more expensive robes & pay for their high life.

In this view, Jesus is feeling angry. The exploited are often so co-opted, so helpless, they do not see what is happening. If so, it is the story of the exploitation of a poor woman & the meanness & greed of the system that exploits her. It’s not a stretch to think that today Jesus sits opposite some corporations, government buildings, state houses, & even some churches & laments over the taxpayers & impoverished who must support them.

Here is an example: Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador in 1977 because he was thought to be a safe, party man who would make no waves at a time of severe upheaval & an oppressive government. When he proved them wrong & became a vociferous spokesman for the poor, his fate was to be the same as our Lord’s. He was shot while saying Mass & his blood covered the altar. His cause is up for canonization.

I suspect we prefer the older interpretation of this Gospel. It is safer, but this one is spiritually more challenging. It challenges us to confront evil where we find it, to sit across from the treasury, to lament, & do what we can for the poor & marginal. In short, it challenges us to be more like our Lord. AMEN!