In this reading Jesus contrasts the self-assured scribes parading their virtue with the humble widow offering all she has to live on. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
38 In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, 39 to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; 40 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.’
41 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. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny . 43 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; 44 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.’
Other readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16 Psalm 145 (146) Hebrews 9:24-28
We are approaching the end of our reading of the gospel of Mark. Today’s reading provides a contrast: the self-assured scribes parading their virtue, and the humble widow offering all she had to live on.
Jesus attacks the hypocrisy of those religious people who make an outward show of virtue, but whose hearts are full of greed. His words against such behaviour are harsh: they will receive a severe sentence. Such texts as this are sometimes used as a pretext for a general denigration of all the teachers of Judaism. We must bear in mind that the gospels also tell us of good and virtuous scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus observes the generosity of the poor widow. Unlike the scribes he has previously criticised, she does not trumpet her virtue. Almost unnoticed, she gives all she can for the upkeep of the temple of God. Jesus then ‘called the disciples and said to them’. In this way the evangelist underlines this teaching of Jesus.
Our first reading, from the first Book of Kings, portrays another widow, the widow of Sidon who is suffering from a punishing famine. Like the widow in the gospel, she shows remarkable generosity and trust in God. Though she does not have enough for herself and her son, she agrees to prepare something to eat for Elijah too, with remarkable consequences. Her example of faith is recalled by Jesus in chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel.
Do I parade my good deeds before others in order to appear better than I am?
Am I prepared to take risks in being generous?
Let us pray for a spirit of thankfulness and generous sharing of what we have.
Let us pray that those who are immersed in selfishness will take up the call to share with the poor.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy