Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

November 7, 2021

A reflection by Sister Mary Glenn on the scripture readings:

First Reading: First Kings 17:10-16

Second Reading: Hebrews 9: 24-28

Gospel: Mark 12:38-44 or Mark 12:41-44

At this time of the year in early November we are reminded of “endings”: the liturgical year will end in 2 weeks; daylight savings just ended, and it is suddenly dark at 5 o’clock; trees have dropped their dead leaves. The context of today’s gospel reading is the last week of Jesus’ life. His end is near. Two days earlier he upset the usual business of the Temple by driving out the money changers and sellers of doves. He continues his persistent attempt to persuade his followers and the religious authorities that they need to change their ideas about God and human problems.

It helps me to imagine the setting that Mark is using here: the Temple is the symbol of the presence of God for devout Jews. The size and beauty of this building made by human hands over 40 years was famous in the Roman Empire.  

The passage in Mark’s gospel immediately following today’s reading emphasizes the glory of the Temple: “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” This is the setting for Jesus’ description of the “end times” which we will hear next week.

So, what is Mark trying to convey to the first hearers of his Gospel and to us? Be careful what you depend on for your experience of the Divine. Yes, we need tangible and external symbols, but eventually they wear out or change in meaning. The “temples” in our world are easy to identify: corporate buildings over a 100 stories high; billion dollar stadiums for the billion dollar sports industry; even the cathedrals of Europe which are mostly empty of worshippers but valuable to the tourist industry. And we now know that these powerful symbols are usually built with underpaid labor, questionable deals with politicians, and other abuses. It is this aspect of the temple that Jesus criticized and that angered the religious authorities.

Mark emphasizes Jesus’ criticism of the authorities by beginning today’s reading with “Beware of the scribes”. They like to show off and they cheat widows. That brings us to the other important symbol to ponder– the nameless poor widow. Here is a person who understood what true worship is: a total surrender of all that she is to the Divine presence. On one level she is foolish to give her life savings, but on another level, she possesses a freedom that Jesus admires.

The widow in the first reading also possessed a fortitude and freedom that Elijah admires. She describes her problem without self-pity and then trusts in the prophet’s words, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake…”

I have called the widow a symbol because she personifies dependence on God’s providence in a culture that pities victims of circumstance, without trying to change those circumstances.

As beautiful as the Temple was it was susceptible to corruption that eventually led to its destruction. In contrast, the symbol of the widow is still with us as a reminder that if we give everything to God in trust, our jar of meal will not be empty and our jar of oil will never fail. Whatever “endings” we have in our lives today, let us receive them with hearts full of trust and peace.

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