“The Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry.” Psalm 146.
Our gospel passage today takes place only moments before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, to His crucifixion and death. Jesus laments the condition of the temple and the exploitation of the widow in the name of religion.
For Jesus and his band of followers, their first view of the temple had to be an awe-inspiring experience. Maybe you’ve had a similar moment – when you arrive at your destination and see an iconic site like the Eiffel Tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge or an Egyptian pyramid, for the very first time.
The temple was a centerpiece of Jewish religious life and remains so. However, at the time of Christ, it was King Herod’s extravagance of the temple in Jerusalem that was evidenced by its size, expense, and opulence.
The building was two times larger than the Roman Forum. The scribes and the political class had attempted to “keep up their appearances” with the Roman occupiers. And this may have prompted Jesus’s concern that the spiritual and religious values of the temple may have been compromised.
Most of all, the point that Jesus was making was that the funds to build it came from the “little people” like the widow in the story.
Consequently, Jesus is sure there is an excellent religious practice and wrong. Something like “good politics” and “bad politics.” The good advances most of us, while the bad only advances the few.
The widow, the woman in our story, is a person of great courage, personal dignity, and profound vocation. Jesus sees in her something — is so worthy of salvation, and reward.
Interestingly, Jesus asks us to go deeper into our religious commitment and go beyond the buildings and artifice of religion.
Jesus’s concern for people like the widow forwards his religious ideal that our human condition outweighs even the centrality of the temple itself.
The Letter to the Hebrews, our second reading, tells us that Christ Jesus is “our priest before God” and the “True Temple.” And here we are reminded that he will appear again to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
So how should we conduct our lives in the meantime?
What’s our response? Is there any prescription here for us today?
I’m reminded of a simple statement from the ordination ceremony when these candidates are given the great privilege to read at liturgy from the book of the Gospels.
The bishop tells the ordained, “Receive the Book of the Gospels. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you preach!’
In light of this gospel, and those many ways the gospel of Jesus is compromised by our actions today — let us all practice what we preach.
And, most of all, welcome all those on the fragile sectors of life — like the widow, the poor, the disabled veteran, and immigrant children with great personal gentleness and generosity of heart.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA