11 Nov 2012
“Then [Jesus] called His disciples [over] and said to them … [she put in everything she had!] (Mark 12:43) In the name …
Today is Veterans Day, and a three day weekend. If I sat at home all weekend, for three days, watching all those old war movies that are being played around the clock, even if I did that, I would not be able to fully appreciate what goes through the minds of those of our parishioners who stood up at the beginning of Mass today as we tolled our church bells in their honour and for all of those who have served, and for all those who are honoured on our Memorial Plaque in the vestibule. I woke up on Friday to NPR like I do most every day, and every Friday they run podcasts from Storycorps, which are ordinary people recording the stories of extraordinary events in their lives. Friday’s story was shared by a man is who is now 65 and who served in the Army infantry in Vietnam. That war has been over for nearly 40 years and he said he can still vividly recall the cries of a young man who had been shot on patrol and who they could not reach. I can sympathize with his story, but I can never fully appreciate what that must feel like to live with that memory every day. Again, it’s hard to leave our own experiences and perspectives behind, and look at things from another’s point of view.
A lot of people ask me what in the world we do at a clergy retreat because they can’t get their heads around that picture either. Fr. Joe and I went out to for dinner after the retreat ended on Thursday. My sister and brother-in-law showed-up by chance. I was telling them that we were just finishing up with our retreat and that’s why the both of us were in Westfield. A bit later Fr. Joe got up and left the table. As soon as he was gone my brother-in-law leans over and asks me in a whisper: “So what do you really do at a retreat?” He thought everything we were telling him was a line and he wanted to know the real story of what we did. But what we really do at a retreat is listen to a few meditations, go to Mass in the morning, prayers in the evening, quiet time and meals. That’s it. And I love it. But I love it for three days. I couldn’t do it everyday. Our retreat master this year is an abbot of a small monastery out by Chicago. He does this kind of stuff all the time. For as hard as it is for some people to imagine what a three-day clergy retreat really is, it’s that hard for me to imagine what life is like in a monastery. It’s hard to sometimes appreciate what is foreign to us.
One of the retreat discussions we had was based on a reading from First Timothy. It starts like this: “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary.” (2:20) And it goes on from there. We were supposed to discuss our reactions to this reading. My brothers in the priesthood were drawn to the message of the plates for special use. I completely understand that. It’s an honour to be able to celebrate the Mass. It is a special ministry to be a priest. And they all, without fail, spoke along these lines. So I said nothing because I’m the only one who felt closer to the image of the ordinary plate. I don’t know about your houses, but the fancy dinnerware in our house sits on display in the dining room cabinet. They’re pretty and delicate, and because of that we hardly ever use the fancy plates because then you have to wash them by hand. For me I associate the image of the fancy plates with things that aren’t really all that useful. I liked instead the image of the ordinary plate. At least they served their purpose. At least they did what they were intended to do. But after all the nice things said about the fancy plates and the priesthood, I decided it was best just to keep my mouth shut because I didn’t want the others to misunderstand what I way saying nor did I want to spend a lot of time explaining it either.
And now after all of this, let me turn our attention to today’s Gospel reading. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples make but one trip to the capital city of Jerusalem. They spend most of their time in the area of Galilee and among tiny villages. To see Jerusalem in all its glory must have greatly awed these Galilean followers of Jesus. The Temple that Herod built was a wonder of the ancient world. One day Jesus was sitting opposite one of the Temple treasury boxes where the faithful could contribute to the Temple. And He’s watching. Large and small donations are being dropped in one after another. Then hobbles over this destitute looking woman who drops in 2¢. Jesus says to His followers: “She has put in more than all the others because she gave everything she had to live on.”
It’s generally accepted that Jesus is praising this action, but I don’t know. This story is preceded by Jesus’ condemnation of the religious authorities who “devour widows’ houses,” and it is followed by Jesus’ prediction that for as grand as the Temple looks it will soon be destroyed so that not one stone lies upon another. Jesus is not impressed, it seems, by titles and buildings. He’s impressed by people. He respects the woman’s act of charity and faith, but I think He’s exasperated by a religious institution that would give her cause to think that God would take her last 2¢ so that He could be worshipped in a fancy building. I think it is with frustration that Jesus says, “She put in everything she had to live on.”
I don’t see Jesus tending toward the image of the fancy dinnerware. I can’t imagine Jesus preferring a prettier Temple at the cost of a woman who would not have dinner that night, but again, this is not a common reading of the text. This passage isn’t telling us that we should not honour God with art and grandeur, but it is about setting priorities. Jesus seems to be saying that people are the most important sanctuaries in the eyes of God. Storefront church or majestic cathedral, Christ dwells within and among His people. We are the sanctuary that Jesus is most impressed by. That’s a change of perspective that the humble man Jesus brings into our world about God, and I think that’s a different take on today’s Gospel too – and different is hard to grasp.
So to close I’d like to share with you a short hymn called Sanctuary that our retreat master sang for us at our retreat. Listen to the words. Sing along if you’d like after the first verse; the words are printed on your song sheet. But while it’s being played try to appreciate Jesus’ different perspective that, in the words of Rev. Peter Gomes, when you walk into a room you are the most important person there because that’s the way Christ thinks of you.
Fr. Randolph Calvo