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Rev. Nicholas Whereat - Rector - 07/11/2021

Beware the Scribes' hypocrisy

‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect… They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. Mark 12:38, 40 This verse at the beginning of our Gospel Passage is essential for understanding the story of the widow placing two coins in the treasury. Widows had no security. By law even their house could be taken away effectively leaving them homeless unless the inheritor of the house and land took them in. After the death of her husband the inheritance that her husband left behind would go to her son and if she has no sons to a close male relative of her husband. Although the women could inherit if there were no male heirs. Earlier in the Gospel we had the story of Jesus going to Peter’s house and Peter’s mother-in-law was there. It is possible that she was not merely visiting but that she lived with her daughter and son-in-law because she was a widow. If she had a son, he may not have seen it as his role to take his mother in. Peter had no obligation to either. But we may suppose Peter and his wife took the commandment to honour one’s parents to heart and took her in. The story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi speaks of the same insecurity of the widows. After the death of her husband and two sons Naomi felt it best to return to her own country where she might be more confident someone would embrace her. She told her daughters-in-law to go back to their own families. Again, there they could expect someone would take them in and may be even marry again. In the 21st century it seems strange to realise the extent to which women were often treated as part of the “Goods and Chattels” of their husband. Things like the Magna Carta began to give significant rights to women. As we know there is still a way to go to see full equality. Going back to the Gospel passage, we see Jesus pointing out the widow dropping these two small coins in the treasury. It is easy to assume that Jesus is celebrating the extraordinary generosity of this woman give everything she had to live on. And as such it seems natural to then see this story as a symbol for all of us to give our whole selves unreservedly to God. But maybe more importantly we are to see this woman in a kind of act of rebellion. Is she really declaring, you have taken my house and left me with nothing except this pittance, here, I will give this as well? In other words, “be it on your heads that I now go away to starve, you have left me effectively with nothing”. Jesus had warned about the Scribes who look important, but they devour widows’ houses. What is the message for us today? In Australia today women inherit from their husbands and can live quite comfortably if their resources are sufficient. On top of that we have pensions and rental assistance. So, who are the powerful today who gobble up the wealth of those less fortunate? During the Pandemic we have seen billionaires become multi-billionaires. And we have seen those in casual jobs finding themselves “redundant” and without recourse to Government funded income. We have seen those working in Nursing Homes doing two or three jobs across different nursing homes to have enough income. As a result they took Covid from one nursing home to another. There seemed to be prosperity for the “self-employed” Uber drivers as they delivered meals and the parcel delivery people. But we also saw Uber delivery cyclists taking huge risks and getting killed. Security for the “Gig economy workers” is non-existent just as it was for widows in previous generations. The Gig Economy is not just young people who are foot loose and fancy free it includes University lecturers who have gained a PhD in their field. Jesus doesn’t offer a solution to the injustice as such. He merely warns against the hypocrisy of the Scribes. I guess the warning is a challenge to all of us who are comfortable to make sure we graciously and carefully minister to the needs of the less fortunate. And I believe it calls upon us and our society generally to make sure that all people in work have security and stability. It is incumbent upon us and our society to make sure that pensions and unemployment benefits etc are sufficient for people well being and not merely survival. Otherwise, Jesus’ criticism falls at our feet as well. This may be an issue to raise with your local member of Parliament when you get a chance. With a Federal election coming up it is probably a good time to act. But let’s no finish just with a criticism ringing in our ears! Remember Jesus notice the widow. He paid attention to her. The story doesn’t go beyond that to tell us if anyone made sure she had enough to live on. But maybe it is enough to know that Jesus notices and pays attention to those whom society ignores. So on those days when you feel nobody loves you and you might as well go and eat worms remember Jesus loves you. Jesus’ love points to our heavenly Father’s love. The story of Ruth doesn’t finish with poverty and insecurity. Admittedly it is sad that Naomi feels the need to come up with a cunning plan to get security for Ruth. She basically tells Ruth to seduce Boas by snuggling up to him when the feasting and drinking of the harvest is over. Wait till he has had plenty of wine and then lie down with him. The cunning plan works, and Ruth’s name is embedded in Jewish history, the great grandmother of King David. As such Matthew includes Ruth in the list of forebears of Jesus. I don’t think it is just because of her faithfulness to Naomi but because God has a very special place in his heart for widows and orphans, for the poor and the oppressed. So even when we may feel that nobody loves us and we are unseen by society, know that God’s love is such that we can play a significant role in salvation history even without being part of the powerful elite.

Scripture References: Ruth 3:1-5, Mark 12:38-44

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Beware of the Scribes' hypocrisy

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