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A servant to all and a generous spirit

Father Terry writes:

With today’s gospel (Mark 12.38-44) we may omit the first paragraph, and you can see why. This paragraph makes clergy embarrassed, with its description of self-important religious functionaries wearing special robes. Well, it can apply to priests – but it applies to lawyers also, because the scribes were lawyers and judges who adjudicated. In fact, these words of Jesus could even apply to administrators, because the scribes had great influence in how the community governed itself. There is a reminder here that our institutions exist for all of us. The bigger an organisation, the harder it is to keep an atmosphere of service. Clergy need to recall that the church does not exist for them, just as lawyers need to remember this about the legal system. Similarly, the civil service is not there the common good and not for the sake of the administrators. Schools are intended for the pupils. We need to remember regularly the washing of the feet that we re-enact each Holy Thursday. Jesus gave us what would become the beauty, dignity, and power of the Mass, but at the same time he also gave us an example of himself kneeling at the feet of others, a servant to all.

From this warning about puffing ourselves up we pass to the incident where Jesus sees a poor widow putting a coin into the Temple treasury. It is a challenge to our usual perceptions which is to admire the big donor and to take for granted the many more modest contributions. Jesus wants us to think otherwise. A modest donation from a less-well off person can represent a large slice of their wealth, so proportionally they are giving more and giving more generously.

Jesus does not see as other people see. He sees into the heart, and the disposition of the giver, and admires greatly what others would simply fail to notice, namely a generous spirit. We are struck by the sheer faith of the woman – she gives what little she has, and she gives it all. This links with the first story from 1 Kings 17, where the widow gives and finds that her generosity is matched by the generosity of God. Also striking in the gospel is the sense that the woman also has a stake in the institution. Her contribution may be small, but she makes it because she belongs. It is her Temple too. Catholics understand. We are a people, we have traditions that unite us to others, we have venerable buildings and beautiful worship that other generations have passed on to us. These things would have no significance if they did not represent faith in the living God. The widow knows this. She gives because she believes and she belongs to a people who believe. So do we.

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