It will help to understand today’s short gospel if we put it in context. Jesus came to Jerusalem in triumph – the crowds greeted Him with Hosannas, spreading branches on the road – calling out, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord. It’s what we call Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. In the days between this triumph and the tragedy of Good Friday, Jesus spent a lot of time in the temple. He drove out the money changers and reminded the people the Temple was a place of prayer not a market place. The priests and scribes and Pharisees challenged Him, ‘by what authority do you do these things.’ In Mark’s gospel we read of them confronting Jesus in different ways – the Pharisees wanted to know if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar – the Sadducees challenged Him on the resurrection of the dead – the lawyers wanted to know if it was lawful to divorce – all this was building up to the moment when the Chief Priest would decide, ‘it is better that one man die than that the whole nation should perish.’
Jesus joins that long line of prophets who exposed the false piety and corrupt practices of religious leaders who took advantage of their positions to exploit the poor. He goes after the Scribes for devouring the houses of widows. From what I’ve read, it seems the Scribes were given a kind of executive care for the resources of widows and were stealing from the very ones they were supposed to be helping. Much like some lawyers today who are caught embezzling estates they were meant to manage.
One consideration we can give to today’s gospel is that maybe Jesus is attacking the very religious system that takes money from a person like this widow and uses it to support people like the scribes who go around in their long robes – a dress code that sets them apart from poor peasants who make up the majority of the population.
Today’s gospel is often used to encourage people to donate to the church. Many denominations call this Stewardship Sunday. Are we good stewards of the funds we collect? Are we using our resources to further the good works of the gospel?
I remember visiting a priest up north who had just taken over a parish and was anxious to make all things new, beginning with the rectory, which he referred to as early muskoka boat house. Showing me around his refurbished home we came to his ensuite which had a Jacuzzi with gold faucets. I mentioned in passing that it was priests like him that caused the French Revolution. That was the end of the tour.
As Passionists, I think we have practiced good stewardship in using our resources here at St. Gabriel’s. The decision to build this new church which is energy efficient and environmentally friendly came about as we looked at the physical condition of the old church, which was impossible to heat and had so much wasted space. We considered as well, the planned development of the whole neighbourhood – the plan to put 10,000 units on the south side of Sheppard between Bayview and Leslie plus other developments in the area. We decided to replace rather than waste your money trying to repair the old church. You make these kinds of decisions yourself when you look at your automobile and ask the question, “should I put more money into this heap or buy a new car?”
With the money realized from the sale of our property and the help of all those who were part of our Heritage Program we now enjoy this beautiful church. No money from the sale of our property went off to some bishop in the States as our present local councilor maintained in the local press.
Stewardship has to do with what we do with the resources of the parish. We use these resources to hire a parish manager and secretary, a maintaince staff, and we use these resources too in hiring qualified people to provide the parish with the important ministry of adult education, education in the faith and preparing people to be received into the church, preparing children for the sacraments and education that springs from the very nature of our new church – and awareness of and sensitivity to our relationship with the rest of God’s good creation. The greening of this sacred space is meant to foster the greening of those who gather here.
Another thought about today’s gospel and the widow’s mite. Jesus had nothing in common with the opulence of the temple, the pomposity and superficiality of the religious leaders who challenged Him. Of all the religious and pious people He met in the temple that day, the widow was the only one with whom He could identify. In a matter of days He, like her, would be asked to give up His whole livelihood – He would be asked to give His life to God, holding nothing back – He would imitate the widow’s radical trust in Go’s care for her – His last words would imitate her total giving when she dropped her two pennies into the box – words, spoken in trust of God’s presence and care – “into Your hands I commend My spirit”.
In continuing to celebrate this Mass I want to thank you for your great support of the parish and promise you that with the guidance of the parish financial committee we will use our resources wisely – may we all see in this widow, who gives all she has as an example of generosity – may we follow her example by being generous in any way we can – to God and to all those who come into our lives.