Extravagant Love

11.11.18. Sun. wk 32 – O. T. – B
1 Kings 17: 10 – 16
Hebrews  9: 24 – 28
Gospel – Mark  12:  38 – 44

In the course of his teaching Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the 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.”

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.  Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                                      Extravagant Love

In today’s Gospel, why does †Jesus criticize the Scribes?  He doesn’t even mention the Pharisees or the Sadducees which He frequently did in the past..  What was it about the Scribes that made them the target of His criticism?  We go back in Jewish History to discover the answer.

After the Persian king, Cyrus, allowed the Israelites to return to Judea following the Babylonian captivity, it wasn’t long before Judea was conquered again by another culture.  For the three centuries before the birth of Christ, the Jewish people were ruled by the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, and then by the Romans, under Julius Caesar.  These conquerors wanted the Jewish people to integrate into their culture, including their religion.  They wanted them to believe in their many gods.  Some of the Jewish people gave in to the religious customs of their conquerors.  But others would not.

The Books of Maccabee’s in the Old Testament describe the conflict that occurred between those faithful to the Jewish faith, and those who embrace pagan customs.  During these three centuries, public displays of Jewish religious rituals were forbidden.  Many of the Scribes of Judaism disobeyed the pagan laws.  The Scribes, who were the teachers of the law of Moses, would courageously make public expressions of faith and prayer.  They would wear religious garments which were symbols of Judaism.  These acts of defiance led many Scribes to martyrdom.  They were true heroes to the Jewish people for their courage and defiance of pagan laws.  But by the first century – at the time of †Jesus, the Roman occupiers tolerated the expressions of both the Jewish faith and its traditions.  Therefore, the Scribes would no longer face death by public displays of their Jewish Faith.  However, they would walk around in their traditional scribal clothes – wanting to impress the people that they were as courageous as their ancestors.  But it was all for show, because the Romans could care less.

†Jesus was not impressed by the public display of the Scribes.  He knew the truth.  The Scribes of His time were nothing like the Scribes of old.  Scribes at the time of †Jesus would be invited to banquets, they would sit in places of honor, and they craved attention.  They would offer traditional prayers for individuals and groups at these gatherings, generally for a fee.  They became very rich.  The only religious thing about many first century Scribes was their clothing.  Authentic faith and obedience to God’s covenant was lacking.

†Jesus contrasted the Scribes behavior with that of the poor widow.  When the Scribes gave a donation to the Temple – it was to impress people with their false courage and fake generosity.  They took care of their needs first, then they gave a portion of their surplus wealth to the Temple.  When the widow gave her last two small coins – it was a true act of faith in God.  Her authentic faith was all she had left.  She gave her entire livelihood so that others in her community might have something.  Money from the Temple treasury was partially used to care for widows and orphans.  So even though she had very little, she wanted to support those who had less.

This week’s Gospel follows the story we heard last week when a Scribe approached †Jesus and asked: “Which is the first of all the Commandments?”  (Mark 12:28)  †Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29f).  †Jesus taught that we are to love with our “all”.  Our love must be extravagant and – He pointed to this widow as an example; love does not calculate, it spends itself lavishly.  How can someone in poverty give more than someone with ample means?

The answer of †Jesus is very simple: ‘love is more precious than gold’.  Real giving, whether it be our time, talent or treasure, must come from the heart.  A gift – given grudgingly or given for show – loses most of its value.  A gift given out of selfless love – with generosity is ‘invaluable’.  †Jesus is revealing to us ‘the heart of our Heavenly Father’.  God is like the widow in His care for us.  The Lord holds nothing back; the Lord gives us everything He has – and everything He is – including Himself!  As the widow sacrificed, so †Jesus sacrificed His very life on the cross for the sake of the world (as Fr. Mike points to the crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar).

I once read this very interesting quotation: “The Lord is not so much interested in how much we give – as in how much we have left.”  Think about that.  How much do we have left – after we give?  Whether it be the gift of time, talent or treasure – are we giving out of our surplus?  St. Teresa of Calcutta would say “Love until it hurts”.  This is what distinguishes the “good” person from the “great” person.  This is the distinguishing characteristic of the saint, who loves with their “all”.

In contrasting the Scribe with the widow, †Jesus teaches three things.  1) Lowly service for the benefit of others must be preferred to the desire for prominence and places of honor.   2) Promoting the good of others through selfless service and care must be preferred over public recognition.  3) The joy of selfless giving and love for others must be preferred over seeking self-gain and self-advancement.  To give to others selflessly and received no public honor in return – can be challenging – but, it is not impossible.

I see it often here at Sacred Heart Parish.  There are those, who, like the widow, give more than they can afford to our capital campaign for the benefit future generations of families and children.  I see members of law enforcement, firefighters and the military; those who run toward danger to help others; they give of themselves without any desire for public acclaim.  Today, we honor the many veterans and those on active duty who sacrifice so much for us.  I also see some of our parishioners who live busy lives, yet, still find time to visit the sick, to teach Children Religious Education, to organize coffee and donuts on Sunday morning (and spaghetti dinners on Saturday evenings) and, who serve in the many ministries at Sacred Heart Parish.

We saw this selflessness in the actions of Justin Meek, a young man from Coronado, who ran toward the shooter in the Thousand Oaks nightclub this week – to shield others from the gunshots – giving his life for theirs.  His was an act of selfless love.  Whenever you give of yourself, whether it is time, talent, or treasure, let the offering be like the widow’s: complete, courageous, and with total trust in God.  This is to be an extravagant saint.

This story in the Gospel occurred nearly 2000 years ago.  And since then this widow’s sacrifice has been remembered, and will be remembered for all eternity.  When our love is extravagant – we too will be remembered for all eternity.

       In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.