32nd Sunday Year B - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2015

Eyes that see! I used to think that today’s Gospel was primarily an illustration of Jesus’ power to read people’s hearts and to see the inner meaning of their external actions and the dynamic at work there – the apparent generosity of the rich, including the scribes, flamboyant in their liberality but sacrificing nothing, compared to the real generosity of the poor widow, giving little but sacrificing everything, all she had to live on.

Some commentators even read Mark’s placing of the incident right at the end of Jesus’ public ministry, just before his eventual arrest and crucifixion, as a subtle symbol of Jesus’ personal readiness to sacrifice everything, to give even his own life, for the true peace of the world.

However, there is a growing number of scholars today who read the incident differently. They see the drama being enacted there around the temple treasury as an illustration precisely of what Jesus had been criticising the scribes for – swallowing the property of widows while making a show of lengthy prayers. He saw it clearly as one more instance of the continuing exploitation of the poor and the powerless, a heartless instance of unconscious brainwashing, of the working out of social and economic systems that favoured the wealthy but cruelly oppressed the poor.  Like most systems, it operated largely unconsciously – and all the more effectively for that.

The Spring Racing Carnival is almost over. We can now get down seriously to our national festival of consumerism, connected, of all things, with Christmas and the birth of Christ.  Perhaps, some of us might hear the occasional small voice inviting us instead to put Christ back into Christmas. Which Christ? the consumer Christ? Or Christ on the side of the poor and exploited? the Christ imploring us to have eyes that see? the Christ seeking to free us from the largely unconscious dynamic hidden behind society’s frantic pursuit to have more, to upgrade, to look good, to be with it. It is easy to overlook the question – at whose cost? Most of us don’t see much obvious poverty, much blatant exploitation. Or, if we do, somehow it is easy to ignore. The sweat shops from whose exploited labour we benefit, the working poor who make possible the extremes of capitalism we enjoy, who pay the heaviest price of the large-scale devastation of the world’s environment, are concentrated mostly overseas, out of sight.

They have 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 – The more severe will be the sentence they receive.

Did Jesus say that last bit vindictively? Did he want those men who would soon torture and kill him, to suffer? It seems not. As he died, he prayed, Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing. Jesus does not want people to suffer, unconsciously complicit in their own dissatisfaction, their gnawing emptiness, their driven restlessness. Typically, significant sin is mostly unconscious. But whether we are aware of our deeper sin or not, it is inevitably destructive, oppressive, firstly of others, the unseen, the unnoticed, even the sometimes complicit, but also of ourselves. 

Our world is so blessed to have Pope Francis. I am constantly thankful for the surprise worked on us by the Holy Spirit. How could those cardinals have elected him? Where did he come from?  He is such a breath of fresh air, as welcome as he was unexpected.

In this nation which, for all its consuming, is obviously unsatisfied, each of us can be, like Francis, a calm presence of peace. We can be a life-giving, counter-cultural beacon in a too often lost and frantic world. It would be wonderful truly to bring Christ back into Christmas. To be that life-giving, counter-cultural beacon, Pope Francis suggests that we become a contemplative people. If we stop, we may find that deep down we yearn to be precisely that.