September 25 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 20:45-47.
Then, within the hearing of all the people, he said 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.”
It’s interesting that Luke begins the next chapter immediately following these verses with the story of the widow’s mite who gave from her poverty, offering her whole livelihood. Quite a contrast between the scribes who feel entitled even to the point of taking advantage of widows, the most vulnerable in society, with the giving of everything by the widow. According to Luke Timothy Johnson in The Gospel of Luke, the kingdom of God that Jesus had been preaching is “symbolized by the widow, who though left all alone in human terms, is not only herself alive but capable of giving life by sharing ‘all her living’ with others.”
The least advantaged are often the most susceptible to the influence of those in authority, particularly religious authorities. Unremitting poverty seems to engender either anger or despondency, the extinguishment of hope. Life becomes a routine of going through the motions of living, of doing what one is told. The will to demand equitability and justice is quenched. Along with that often is the loss of self-esteem and self-love. Jesus saw the ravages of poverty in the faces and bowed spirits of people in the villages and fields everyday. His heart ached for them. In response he healed them, he extended God’s love to them, he offered hope for something better. At the same time he was incensed by the hard-heartedness and arrogance of the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders, and the rich. They could do something to make life better for others but too often neglected their responsibility. Jesus warned them that they will receive a very severe condemnation.
We are so quick to judge the poor. They should work or work harder. They created their own problems by their poor choices in life. They should be more prudent in the way they spend their money like refraining from buying cigarettes or alcohol or anything else we might consider superfluous or sinful. We want to keep them in their place. We want the homeless sheltered outside the city, kept out of sight and mind. We fine them for driving with a broken tail light they can’t afford to repair. We remove them from the food stamp program by the millions. We don’t give them more hours to work so that we don’t have to pay for their health insurance. It’s tough to be poor and we too often make it tougher.
They respond with anger or despondency. If with despondency, God will respond in anger on their behalf. That’s what Jesus is saying today. It’s not right or fair or just. It’s not the kingdom that He wants us to build on earth. If I don’t do what I can to help the poor and treat them with dignity, it won’t go well for me on the day of judgment. That’s the message that Jesus gives me over and over in the gospels.