Sybil 1998

Gospel text

Mark 12: 38-44

38 And in his teaching, Jesus said: "Open your eyes to the Bible scholars, those who like to walk in long robes and [receive] bows in public squares, 39 and places of honor in synagogues and first places in feasts, 40 people who devour the property of widows and, for appearance, spend long moments in prayer. They will be judged more severely. 41 Later, while sitting in front of the treasure room, he watched the crowd throwing coins into the treasure room. Many rich people were throwing a lot. 42 When a poor widow presented herself, she threw two lepts, which is ten minutes' pay for a laborer of the day. 43 And having then called his disciples, he said to them, "Truly, I assure you, this widow, who is poor, has cast more than all those who have thrown into the treasure room. 44 Indeed, they have all thrown from their superfluity, while she, from her poverty, has thrown away all she had to live".


What is behind the fame?

Gospel commentary - Homily

The death of a reputation

When a 900-page report was released in the summer of 2018, accusing religious authorities in six dioceses in Philadelphia, USA, of concealing the fact that over three hundred priests had sexually abused more than a thousand minors for several decades, the news has made a big splash. The anger did not come so much from the horror that priests raped or grubbed children, organized pedophile circles, outdoing themselves in fantasy for sexual intercourse, and thereby destroying lives, but the anger came from the fact that bishops wanted to hide and deny everything, causing the situation to continue indefinitely; their motive seemed noble: to protect the holy reputation of the Church, to prevent it from being tainted. Because this reputation has no price, as its authority depends on it.

The link is easy to establish with today's Gospel. It begins with a warning against the religious elite of the time, the scribes, who were distinguished from the masses by their education, which allowed them to be specialists in the Bible. Knowing how to interpret Scripture gave them power and prestige in a very religious society. And they did not hesitate to cultivate it: according to the story provided by Mark, they sought the first places in the synagogues, the best seats in large banquets, frequented the public squares to stand out in their splendid robes and to receive the respect due to them. If it were only that, one could say: they are people with big egos. But the problem is not there, it is in their hypocrisy: while they were the most religious of men and pretended to pray at length, they swindled widows, robbing them of their meager property. This is both tragic and abominable: religious values are used to make disgusting gestures. It's cynicism at its height.

What is Jesus' reaction? "They will be judged more severely." One can think that the "most severely" is a comparison with others who also do evil, but without dressing up with religious values. Mark presents this episode in a context where Jesus addresses the crowd who listens with pleasure, and by this he certainly wants to reach out the elite of his Christian community in Rome: this message is also addressed to her. But this warning would be a little short, if there were not, on the contrary, the proposal of a way forward.

It is likely that the warning against the scribes and the scene of the widow making her temple offering belonged originally to different traditions, at different times. But Mark wanted to put them together to form a stark contrast. A widow, poor like almost all widows, without the support of a husband, put in the coffers of the temple all that was left for her to live. It's crazy, no! Perhaps. But the point of the story is not there, it is in the contrast between religious men who accumulate honors, reputation and money, and a poor woman who is empty of everything for God. And Mark, who intentionally placed this story at the time Jesus faces his trial and death, clearly suggests seeing through this woman the very image of what Jesus is going through.

The Christians of today, in their faith in Jesus and their admiration for their master, forget the ignominy and the horror of what is a death on the cross, a treatment reserved for slaves. It is not only a question of suffering, but especially of shame. The first Christians waited for a long time before being able to speak openly about it: their master was considered a criminal and a scoundrel, suffering fate of mobsters and slaves.

The very fact that Jesus agreed to continue his journey in truth and love to the end, and therefore to face the judgment of the religious elite of the time who made him a criminal, he has no only agreed to give his life, but he agreed to die to his reputation.

This is important for Mark, who addresses his community in Rome, torn apart by Nero's persecutions, where prominent Christians yesterday are now hated and hunted down.

It is important for us today too. Yet rare among us will be those who will have the fate of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who has promoted social justice and denounced poverty, torture and murder in his country, accepting the consequences of his actions: he was murdered in full Eucharistic celebration.

Before facing physical death, we have to face small deaths. Today, one of the great pain points in our society is that related to mental health. But what is the first difficulty in a case of mental health? To admit it, to recognize it before others. There is often a feeling of shame! What will become of his reputation? Yet, salvation is in the death of this reputation. That's what Jesus did.

This is what the bishops of Philadelphia, and many other bishops, have been slow to understand. And what about us?


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, November 2018