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What God values

GOSPEL COMMENTARY Nov. 7, Mk 12:38-44

God’s ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts. Frequently, we see only the surface of things, whereas the Spirit of God perceives the heart of them.

Our reading this Sunday, from Mark 12:38-44, provides a striking contrast to highlight this reality and show what’s truly important to God.

We find ourselves in the Temple treasury with Jesus, doing some good old-fashioned people-watching.  After telling the crowds not to be haughty or ostentatious like the scribes, he settles down to observe the ebb and flow of folks coming in to make their monetary gifts to God. 

Our imagination fills out the scene: The rich folks are likely not there alone. They breeze into the temple precincts with their entourage, long fine robes billowing behind. They recognize the other well-to-do, exchange those beloved greetings from the marketplaces, chat with their friends. Behind them come their servants, ponderous, carrying the many sacks of copper coins marking their worldly success. What a noise it makes, as sack after sack of copper is dropped in the metal collection box. Clank. Thud.  Everyone within earshot knew “who was who.” And on the surface, everyone knew who seemed beloved and blessed by God.

Then the contrast: Enter the widow, solitary, silent and slow. Remember that widows were rightfully considered among the “least of these.” Bereft of their husbands, they had no real source of income. If their family didn’t take them in, they had no one to care for them. Our heroine is destitute. 

She’s likely wearing simple clothing, perhaps mourner’s garb patched and worn. We watch her creep down the aisle. It takes her effort and sacrifice even to make a contribution. How long will it take her to get to those boxes, we wonder? Then, in go the two tiny coins. They make no sound as they hit bottom, easily missed among the giant bags of copper from earlier. St. Mark makes clear: These aren’t even pennies, they’re half-pennies. Jesus stirs and speaks the truth: Those two coins were all that woman had in the world.

Contrast: What do people see versus what God sees? What do people value versus what God values?  Appearances can be deceiving. Christ reminds us that the woman gave more than all the rich because she gave all she had. She is the one truly beloved to God. Unlike the rich who were unscathed by their contributions, the widow was now entirely dependent on God and the ministrations of others for her next meal. That takes faith, hope and love.

The woman is praised by Jesus because she knew what was truly good, what really mattered, and gave her best to it. We’re asked to do the same, both in our faith and in our daily lives: to value what truly matters, loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. God values not worldly success, but our best efforts made in love.
Often, we get trapped in thinking that God values some false standard of visible worldly perfection.  Perhaps we think God only wants perfect prayers from us, when in reality God simply wants to spend time with us, asking for the best we can offer that day. Perhaps as parents we think we need to provide the perfect vacations or activities for our kids, when more often they just want our time, love and attention, like teaching them to fish or reading a bedtime story. We can even begin to think the only thing we have to give the poor is money.

Which raises a question: How often do we allow the false standard of worldly perfection to be our guiding star? Is our value system set by the scribes and wealthy in the Gospel, or by Jesus and the widow? Which do we choose, and how do we act accordingly?

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021