To get things started, allow me to toss out some numbers:
I’ll get back to those numbers, but first, here’s this week’s Gospel lection from Mark:
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” –Mark 12:38-44 NRSV
For those who read last week’s ForeWords blog, you may recall how pleased I was to finally find some kind words regarding religious scribes in the Gospels, as that’s a pretty good description of my career path. Well, so much for that! We’re back to a less-than-pleasant (albeit more typical) caricature. For the sake of argument, let’s give them a bit of an update and refer to them as the first-century equivalent to what we today call the “1 percent.” In other words, these are the privileged class who are often clueless about the true condition of the other 99 percent (and, I suppose, Mark uses a widow as representative of that much-larger group).
Now, about those numbers.
During the 2012 national election here in the USA, approximately $6 billion was spent on various kinds of advertising and promotion, much of it negative, nasty, or both. About $400 million of that was contributed by a small group of billionaires/millionaires to defeat President Barack Obama and elect enough Republicans to give them control of the U.S. Senate. Hmm, that didn’t work out so well, did it. (Two years later in the off-year election, they did manage to take control of the Senate, of course.)
About those other two numbers: 44 million is the number of Americans who did not have medical insurance before the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was implemented. In 2010 approximately $37 billion was the amount allocated in the U.S. federal budget for foreign economic aid (that’s a bit less than 1 percent of the total).
Of course, money spent in US. elections has skyrocketed even further. The influence of Super-PACS and billionaires and all sorts of business- and union-related organizations has radically changed the nature of American political–and therefore, social and economic–life. This is a good time to remember that Jesus had more to say about money and how it’s used than any other single topic. Odd, isn’t it, that this topic doesn’t get broached very often in Christian churches because, frankly, we all find it a bit too awkward or uncomfortable. Many preachers prefer to expound on abortion or gender orientation–two topics Jesus never addressed directly at all.
And so as we read this gospel story of the widow’s mite–or, for that matter, any of the other Gospel stories that have to do with the use and abuse of money and power (two topics that go together)–maybe the pertinent question is this: What would Jesus have us do about it?
*Portions adapted from 2012 ForeWords archives.
- Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (prepareformass.wordpress.com)
- “Widow’s Mite” or “Don’t Put That Money in the Collection Plate!” (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)
- Generosity is not how much we give, but how much does it cost us (junjunfaithbook.com)
- The Widows’ Faith: Scott Hahn Reflects on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (salvationhistory.com)
- Trust God and Do Not Fear (livingontilt.wordpress.com)
- A Lesson on Faith for the Year of Faith: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (thesacredpage.com)