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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 32, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 11, 2012

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 146; Mark 12:38-44

A new solidarity

As Mark’s Jesus walks toward Jerusalem and his death, he encounters an assorted group of “little people” who embody Gospel values: a grieving father who cries, “I believe, help my unbelief”; a bevy of children who remind him of what it means to enter God’s kindom; an unknown exorcist who casts out demons in Jesus’ name; a blind beggar whose faith brings healing and who bounds up to follow Jesus. In today’s Gospel, which recounts Jesus’ final public act before his farewell speech to the disciples and subsequent passion, a poor widow gives “her whole livelihood” (literally, her “life”). God be with you

In the ancient world widowhood was a frightening prospect, as reflected in the frequent refrain in Israel’s laws calling for special care for the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger in the land:

 

Exodus 23:9 – “You shall not oppress a resident alien.”
Leviticus 19:34 – “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the house of Egypt.”
Exodus 22:22 – “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.”
Deuteronomy 24:21 – “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”
Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.”

 

The Hebrew and Greek terms for “widow” come from roots that suggest helplessness, emptiness or being forsaken; and what these people had in common was their isolation from the web of love and support, and a deep sense of powerlessness. In traditional societies today a similar fate often awaits, crystallised in the statement of one such widow: “We are considered bad omens. We are excluded from all auspicious events. I am accused of being a witch who killed her husband, and my children were beaten and kicked out of our house by the brothers-in-law. We live by begging, in continual fear.” In our seemingly prosperous society widows (and widowers) often suffer, in addition to their deep grief, from economic loss, the burden of raising a family alone and a certain isolation from friends.

The Gospel is a two-edged sword. Jesus teaches in the temple, which had recently been magnificently reconstructed by Herod, one of the great builders of the ancient world, an example of the “edifice complex” (John R. Donahue SJ) – along with even nastier proclivities. The temple area was twice as large as the Roman forum, and the sight caused Jesus’ disciples to point to “the wonderful stones and wonderful buildings” (Mk. 13:1). It was a religious and commercial centre with a large staff, requiring great financial resources.

After a number of disputes with the temple establishment, Jesus lashes out at the scribes, pillorying their social and religious posturing – wearing elaborate vestments, glorying in signs of honour, but most harshly “devouring the houses of widows” by promising to recite lengthy prayers. (Says one commentator: This sounds hauntingly like certain contemporary religious fund-raising techniques.)

Jesus then sits, faces the treasury and watches people donate money, most likely putting it in boxes marked “alms,” which have been found by archaeologists. A poor widow comes by; Jesus notices her as she throws in a couple of coins, the equivalent of a few cents.

The contrast is stark, not only between the rich, who give out of their surplus, and the widow, but also between the widow and the scribes. In fact, many commentators argue that Jesus’ statement that this poor widow put in all she had, is not primarily praise of the woman but a prophetic indictment of the temple establishment who took advantage of such little people [see Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man]. In effect, Jesus is saying: “Look at the way the scribes posture. This is what it all comes to – exploiting poor widows.”

Yet Mark clearly focuses on the widow’s deed. In contrast to the external signs of honour sought by the scribes, she possesses true honour in God’s eyes. Her action not only symbolises what Jesus will do (that is, give his life) but provides a “bookend” with the action of the woman in Mk. 14:1-11, who with extravagant largess anoints Jesus for his death. These nameless “little people” are great in their courage and service, even in the face of powerful institutions that can exploit them and crush their loved ones. Their sisters and brothers are all around us today (John R. Donahue SJ) …

Even if we don’t, for the most part, see them. “Little people” of courage and service may be the migrants who work long hours, without security or insurance, in our factories and abattoirs. “Little people” of courage and service may be the farmers who, at the hands of big food corporations, receive very little for their crops. “Little people” of courage and service may be the young labourers who assemble our Apple products. “Little people” of courage and service may be returned servicemen and women traumatised by war, or those in mourning for loved ones lost to war or armed conflict. “Little people” of courage and service may be adults surviving child abuse, “swimming upstream” towards recovery. “Little people” of courage and service may be those at risk of homelessness, those overcoming fears of addiction and persecution, those dealing with confusion and exhaustion – some of whom we pass on the street as we make our way to work or worship, to the movies or to the theatre.

“Little people” of courage and service may be the volunteers who write stories and take photographs for the South Sydney Herald – as well as those who labour with heavy backpacks to distribute the paper each month.

Jesus calls us to sit with him for a moment and watch – to see who participates in the life of our churches, our communities, our schools and colleges, our economies – to look into the dark corners for people in need of food, clothing, shelter, decent wages, a helping hand, an advocate, a friend.

And then not simply to observe, but to help those whom we see – to call other people and invite them to open their eyes, too – to go and talk with those who are hidden in plain view – to ask them about their lives, to ask them how we might partner with them to create hope and new life – to demonstrate that God’s way is not the way of oppression, but the way of justice and love (Christie M. Dalton) – to demonstrate what Brother Ghislain of Taize, and the Taize community, calls a “new solidarity”: “The impetus towards a new solidarity is nourished by deeply held convictions: the need for sharing is one of them. This is an imperative that can bring together believers of different religions as well as believers and non-believers” (Letter from Taize, No. 274, 2012).

Let’s complete the homily together by sharing our prayers for others. You’re invited to come, to pray in response to one of the three suggestions below, and to drop a coin into the “alms” box as you pray.

… Amen.