Homily for November 11

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Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass


There’s quite a contrast in the two brief vignettes
St. Mark pairs, side by side, in today’s gospel.
First, a stern Jesus, mincing no words, condemns the scribes
who take advantage of their office and of the poor
for their own benefit and satisfaction.
And then a compassionate Jesus directs our attention
to a poor widow - from precisely the class of people
the scribes are accused of scamming -
a poor widow whose small offering Jesus compares
with the larger contributions made to the temple by the wealthy.

Mark offers a description of the scribes.
And it concerns me that I fit that description rather well.
As a priest, I am among those who wear long robes.
I accept the greetings of many as I walk each day
through the market place of Concord center.
I have a seat of honor here in the temple.
And when I go to a reception or a banquet
I’m almost always seated at the head table.
In my defense - I do not devour the homes of widows!
And we’re usually out of here in an hour -
so I don’t think that’s lengthy prayers.
But I do belong to that class, clergy,
who are often accorded honor and rank
simply on account of the office they hold.
Tragically we’re learning how in our own day
and going back decades,
such honor and respectability were too often accorded to those
who had not earned, merited or deserved it.
This week the Catholic bishops of the United States will gather
for their annual November meeting.
The agenda for their meeting will be almost entirely devoted
to the crisis in our Church, created by those who abused
both their office and those in their care.
Pray with me, as I’m sure you do,
that the bishops’ work this week will be substantive
and will manifest changes and plans for more change
to stanch the hemorrhaging of the church’s credibility
and rescue her from the jeopardy in which her mission lies.

When it comes to the poor widow in gospel
and what she places in the collection basket,
Jesus is clearly not terribly concerned here
with how much money
someone might give to the temple treasury.
He’s interested, not in the amount being offered,
as in the source of the offering – where it comes from.
In a nutshell, Jesus is saying,
“I’m more interested in the gift that tugs on your heartstrings
than in the gift that pulls on your purse strings.”
Of course, it’s often the case
that purse strings and heartstrings are connected
- and that works well WHEN
pulling on my heartstrings opens my purse all the wider.
But that’s not always the case.
In the story here,
Jesus watches the wealthy handing over large sums of money
but he sees that their offering doesn’t come from their hearts:
they’re giving from their surplus wealth
and so they don’t feel the pinch.
The poor widow didn’t have to spend much time
counting her wealth: she had only two small coins to consider.
And what did she do?
She emptied her heart which led her to empty her purse.
Her heart’s generosity wasn’t limited
by the paucity of her purse’s contents.
She had no surplus from which to make an offering
so she gave from her want, from her poverty
– she gave all that she had.
And when you give from your want,
when you give until you feel the pinch,
when you give with a generosity beyond
what your accountant or bookkeeper  
might suggest as wise,
then you’re giving from your heart
which is what the Lord asks of us.

Even if you’re still holding strong
against the rising tide of Christmas ads,
you can’t escape knowing that the “season of giving”
is right around the corner.
(Today’s announcement at the end of mass
            include some hints of Christmas!)
“The season of giving…” An interesting term!
Who gives, in the season of giving?  Who receives?
And what is given?  How much is given? 
And to whom is it given?
And who gives and who gets in this season of giving.
How much will you and I give this year
- to those who already have too much?
- to those who already have more than they need?
And how much will we give this year
- to those who have next to nothing?
- to those who have far less than even the most basic of needs?
For that matter: how much will we spend just on
decorating, wrapping and mailing gifts
to those who truly do not need what we’re going to give them?

Will our giving be governed by our heartstrings
or our purse strings?
In celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas
we’ll stuff ourselves with food and drink and gifts.
Our purse strings will be wide open at the malls and online.
But when the needs of others tug on our heartstrings this year,
will we find ourselves giving from only from our surplus?
Or might we find ourselves giving until we feel the pinch
of giving from our want?

The scene in the gospel presents us with some stark contrasts.
Where do see ourselves,
in the mix of the scribes, the rich and the poor?
Earlier we sang, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor…”
And, indeed, he does.
And he hears their cry through our ears.
And he wants to reach out to the poor our arms and hands.
And he wants to help them by sharing with them from our surplus!

None of us is excused from this gospel’s demand.
This is a story for every heart, every purse - for every one of us.

We hear this story, gathered at the Lord's Table.
Jesus gave from his poverty, too.
On the Cross, he emptied himself out,
he emptied out his heart for us,
not for a moment counting the cost.
And in doing so, he felt much more than a “pinch” in his giving.

And with the same generosity
he offers all of himself to us again today,
in the gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist:
the sacrifice of Calvary becomes our sacrifice of praise
and we receive everything Jesus poured out for us.

May Christ who gave himself for us
lead us to empty out our hearts generously, for one another,
and especially for those most in need
in this season of giving.


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