To begin the reflection on this text I went to parallel texts in the Gospels, and also to others from some books of the Old Testament. The aim of this exercise is to help us to discover the richness of the texts we hear at Mass each Sunday.
Yes, surely it takes time. This is the approach I try to take with the small group I meet every fifteen days in our neighbourhood on the periphery of the city of Moreno, in the Province of Buenos Aires.
The first part of the text speaks of the masters of the law and the Pharisees. The second part tells us of the attitude of the widow. At first glance we see opposing attitudes. It was for this reason I decided to take the parallel texts together. I am also very conscious, however, that these opposing attitudes exist in each one of us.
Those responsible in Israel (the Pharisees, the masters of the law) knew how to preserve the teachings of Moses, but they did not know how to put them into practice. They did not understand ‘authority’ as an instrument for serving our brothers and sisters.
The text in Mark 12:38-44 is inviting us to coherence in our lives.This and other texts show Jesus the situation of communities whose strength came from a hypocritical current present among some of the Pharisees of the time. Jesus criticizes them because their lives portray a false piety, which seeks to satisfy their vanity, while holding on to the goods of the neediest. Jesus questions these attitudes, in the same way as the prophets of the Old Testament did.
In the parallel texts widows are mentioned as an example of people of prayer, of charity and as free for service -people like Judith and Ana, prophets of the Old Testament who find their strength in God.The special care and protection for widows as mentioned in the Scriptures include people like orphans and strangers who have fallen on hard times and are in situations of vulnerability. God hears their lamentations and reaches out to defend them. Jesus discovers a depth of meaning and generosity in the simple gesture of the poor widow, who gives all that she possesses. The attitude expressed in this gesture was diametrically opposite to the attitudes of the particular Pharisees in this story. Jesus’ final conclusion to his disciples is “you must not imitate or follow such leaders..” but you must imitate the example of the poor widow who came to the temple trembling, and deposited all of her material securities, thus abandoning herself to the providence of God that she trusted to be alive in her brothers and sisters.
Sr. Virginia (Vicky) Villaverde OP