32nd Sunday Year B - Homily 2

Homily 2 - 2012

The usual interpretation of today's Gospel passage would have Jesus admiring the generosity of the widow.  Without calling her generosity into question, a growing number of scholars read Jesus' comment differently - especially when the context of the passage is taken into consideration.

The passage is sandwiched precisely between two quite relevant events.  Before it, Jesus had just lamented that some of the scribes tended not only to occupy the moral high ground but also to devour the property of widows.  In the incident that immediately follows, Jesus prophesied that the whole temple complex and all it stood for would soon be destroyed.  [Indeed, his saving death and resurrection would make temple worship irrelevant.]  Seen in this light, the incident can be taken as a sad commentary on the power of the religious institution to exploit the gullible, and particularly the poor and devout.

However, the power to exploit the poor and powerless was not reserved only to religious institutions of Israel.  It extends in different ways to all institutions and across history.  Jesus' consistent concern was for the poor.  In his day, widows were particularly vulnerable because they had little opportunity to earn their living reputably, and no one to defend their interests before the law.  Today, on the world scale, the poorest of the poor consistently get a raw deal at the expense of international money markets, global agribusiness and corporate monopolies.  The plight of the poorest in some nations is worsened by the sometimes rampant corruption and blatant self-interest of their own ruling elites.

Let us hope that we as Church become increasingly alert to the constant danger.

The clerical sexual abuse scandal is an instance of the unfortunate dynamic.  Too many of us were gullible enough to presume that clergy were above reproach, certainly on major issues.  Many were unwilling to think otherwise, or at least did not feel free enough to take action.  In the case of those scribes whom Jesus criticised, he was angered not only by their heedless and heartless exploitation, but particularly by their ostentatious claim to personal piety and moral uprightness.

In the present sexual abuse revelations, what particularly upsets many people is not only the abuse of power and privilege on the part of the offenders but the Church's perceived habitual taking of the moral high-ground on many matters under public debate in the community.

A similar dynamic can be seen operating elsewhere as well. The area of gambling, for example, is a case in point, particularly on-line gambling where people are so open to thoughtless, hurried, on-the-spot decisions that can be easily exploited.  As well, poker-machines prove to be so addictive for many people.  Consistently, they have been concentrated in the poorest socio-economic districts.  Figuring among the biggest owners of poker machines is one of the major supermarket chains.  Ironically, the same supermarket seeks to project its corporate image as family-friendly.

Unfortunately, to compound the injustice, governments generally across the nation have become dependent for much of their income on the gambling industry.  And they can then castigate the poor for their inability to manage their incomes responsibly.  Echoes everywhere of the Jerusalem scribes!!  I have no idea what might be the answer to the power of institutions.  I am not sure that Jesus did either, beyond exposing what he could, being prepared to pay the price of his concern for the poor … and face into death.

A strong dose of humility would do all of us good.