The gospel is not only about how the poor widow surpassed the Scribes in generosity but more so, about the sensibility and creativity of Jesus to see the social and economic condition of the same widow.
The Scribes were known for their choreographed virtues. They ‘like to go around in long robes and accept greetings’. They go to public places like ‘marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets’ to display such virtues. This populist lifestyle makes them admirable to many who are afraid of freedom and develop a culture of silence. This is the reason why status quo was maintained. The Scribes remained in power for many years until the advent of Jesus.
In the same gospel, Jesus enlightens the disciples by telling them the fact that the Scribes are evil for ‘they devour the houses of widows, and as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.’ Jesus assures the disciples that such class of people ‘will receive a very severe condemnation.’
The country is in the international headlines these past days because of the seemingly irresolvable airport scam better known as tanim bala. The victims are the vulnerable OFWs and the elderly. The government is insensitive. Politicians downplay the problem and reduce it to statistics. How about the majority of Filipinos? Business as usual. The same callous and insensitive political leaders will win in the next elections, anyway. Majority are afraid of freedom and prefer the culture of silence.
Today, Jesus is talking about the oppressed. While Jesus identifies the widow as oppressed, he simultaneously identifies the Scribes as the oppressor. In the gospel, Jesus is educating us. He is making us see the evil of such relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. Our government presents the oppressed merely as poor. By painting the picture of poverty, it makes us blind of the reality of oppression. Poverty, after all could be a choice. Thus, they would say: If there are countless Filipinos who are poor, it is because they chose to be poor. It is because they are lazy.
To Jesus, such a label is doubly unfair. Jesus is telling us today that countless of Filipinos are oppressed. Poverty is only a jargon, a way of sanitizing evil. The tanim bala phenomenon is a proof of oppression. If there are oppressed, there are also oppressors. During the time of Jesus, they were the Scribes who ‘devour the houses of widows.’ Today, they are the political dynasties who devour the houses of every Filipino, and as a pretext, recite lengthy list of favors they have given to their pawns.
‘Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.’ Jesus is asking us to sit down and observe, to think and be critical. Are we joining the crowd who are afraid of freedom and prefer the culture of silence? Or are we going to embrace the radical teaching of our Lord and see with eyes of mercy the suffering of the oppressed?
In a country inhabited by the oppressed and the oppressor, we cannot be neutral. Christian duty calls that we side with the oppressed and shun the oppressors. Social transformation can only take place if we are ready to offer our lives for God and for country. Jesus is not asking for the generosity of the Scribes who give from their surplus, but the generosity of the widow for ‘she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’