Written by: Thomas Boyle, UF Student
Hypocrisy, vanity, pretentiousness. Jesus goes after them all in today’s Gospel reading. We see two distinct teachings of Christ here, firstly a public criticism of hypocritical religious authorities and then a discussion of the true depth of different people’s generosity.
Jesus’ first message in today’s reading seems increasingly apt for reflection given the current scandals that are harming His Church. With so much evil and hypocrisy from certain Catholic clergy around the globe being brought to light in recent times, it makes many question the legitimacy of religious authorities at all. It is important for Christians to consider the content of Jesus’ critique here, specifically that He is harsh against hypocrisy of religious authorities, not the reality of their authority itself. It is easy to draw parallels between the leaders of Christ’s time “who go around in long robes…and take places of honor at banquets” and bishops in today’s Church. Surely there were virtuous scribes in the first century, and Jesus does not say that their teachings are false and that his disciples, rather He tells us to “beware.” Today, many bishops and clergy are great people who spread the light of Christ, yet we also ought to beware that merely because somebody has a legitimate position of authority does not mean that they are always good people to emulate on the basis of their actions. A fulfilled Christian life needs to have interaction with the Sacraments which clergy minister and the communities which they head.
The second main teaching presented in today’s Gospel is that we should focus on giving our all more than we focus on giving a lot. Christ specifically highlights the life of a poor woman who gives a very little amount of money, but claims that she is giving more than the rich people who donate big sums of money. It is obvious that society is not made up of all equally wealthy people, and as such, Jesus shows us that we are called to pursue lives, at whatever socioeconomic status we have, that are dedicated to giving of what we have. Followers of Christ are not guaranteed earthly riches, but we are also not judged by our earthy economic status, and so we should always be at peace with ourselves so long as we truly give all that we have to give even if it does not appear to make much objective difference financially. The crux of Jesus’ message here is that the authentic love of God is so consuming that it can be recognized by sincere and absolute generosity and dedication to virtuous acts.
One might wonder why Christ is not mentioned warning the widow to stop donating because some of the Jewish authorities were corrupted morally, but again we should remember that Jesus speaks out against their vanity and hypocrisy, while maintaining that the work they do as part of their ministry is still good and important. This ties into the first part of this reflection because even though we may have concerns about the state of the Church’s clergy, that we should not forget that they perform the work that God wills for us to experience Himself through. As such, we ought to be mindful of where we can give our “two small coins” in order to aid the good work of the Church.
To summarize, though some clergy are guilty of awful acts, the work of religious authorities is still good for Christians to participate in and to help foster by giving our talents and resources. We should reflect personally on the ways that we may better give what we have to God’s community on Earth and in what ways we have been hypocritical in our own lives so that we may humbly seek to grow in virtue in ourselves, even if our faith in the holiness of others is shaken.