Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
Clothes are for warmth and protection, but the layers accumulate – layers of meaning. Clothes become an assertion of one’s self-image, one’s identity. Clothes say, “This is who I am.” Clothes are a language. Uniforms assert membership of a particular class: the army, the police, the clergy….
The Scribes loved to “walk about in long robes and be greeted obsequiously in the market-place.” A language is an agreement; there is no such thing as a private language. What use is a special hat if no one knows what it is saying? One gets the feeling that people who depend on robes and uniforms and badges and insignia must be very unsure of themselves and are craving recognition from others. The Scribes believed that their knowledge of the Law was the sum of all wisdom and the only knowledge worth having. But that belief was insecure while there was even one person who disagreed. How Jesus threatened their identity! He challenged them and beat them in argument, though he had never been to rabbinical school. He earned their unremitting hostility.
In today’s passage he pointed out a casualty of the Temple system: the poor. A widow at that time was the very symbol of poverty and helplessness. In that world, for a woman to lose her husband was to lose her identity. This poor widow of no identity was being exploited by people who clung desperately to a superficial identity. It is the tragic story of the world.
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