instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, November 23, 2009

A mite hard to see

Today's Gospel is the story of the Widow's Mite, in which Jesus says:
"I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood."
What can be missed, just going by the Lectionary, is that both Luke and Mark put this story immediately after Jesus gives this warning to His disciples:
"Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation."
I usually think of this story as a straightforward (if difficult) lesson in heroic virtue. But Jesus doesn't call attention to the widow merely to point out her faith, hope, and love; He points out her virtue in comparison with the virtue shown by "all the rest."

There is a lesson here in the hiddenness of the ways of God. Sure, if we noticed what the widow was doing, we would recognize her virtue. For the most part, though, we don't recognize such things. What is there in her appearance or actions that would draw our attention to her?

What we notice are long robes and seats of honor; if we didn't, then the scribes of our day wouldn't care about them. We may take such things at face value, thinking that whoever sits in a place of honor must be honorable. We may be cynical about such things, cynicism being the besetting virtue of the adolescent.

Odds are, though, we won't be seeing things as God sees them. Maybe this scribe isn't far from the Kingdom of God; maybe this widow is a miser. Even when they saw the same thing, the disciples needed Jesus to interpret it for them.

In addition to the good example of the widow herself, then, we might gain from this very brief story a little humility regarding our own understanding and judgment of the events and people around us.