Buying heaven

Gospel Reflection
Jesus Denounces the Scribes
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
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.”
Mark 12:38-44 (NRSVCE)
Bae Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, tribal leader
Can we buy our way into heaven?

Almost often we reduce our faith to the amount we give to the church, believing that the more we give, the more we are assured of entrance to heaven regardless of how we live our life.

In Mark 12:38-44 we find two major characters – the scribes or teachers of the law who "like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted respectfully in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets" and, on one hand, the poor widow who "from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."

Around 700 lumads (indigenous people) from Mindanao recently joined a 1,000 km protest march and caravan to Manila to air their grievances against the injustices they are experiencing like the disappearance, killing, and vilification of their leaders; all forms of harassment; and school closures.

Tribal leaders OCarm brothers at the #Manilakbayan2015 #KampuhanUPD.

Bae Josephine, a mother and a tribal leader, said that instead of giving in to the demands of the people who have been terrorizing them, they opted instead to fight, temporarily leaving their villages and livelihood behind. They had to make this sacrifice, she said, not for themselves, not out of fear, but for their future generations.

It is easy for us to give when we have extra, but what if the only thing that we could give is our life, our time, our effort, would we be willing to make the sacrifice? What if we need to leave our comfort zones, like Josephine and the many lumads of Mindanao, and enter into an uncertain situation, could we make the sacrifice?

In his audience with pilgrims from El Salvador last October 30, Pope Francis rebuked those who continue to malign the name of Archbishop Bld. Oscar Romero, who died a martyr's death for his work in defending the poor of El Salvador.

Pope Francis pointed out that even after his death Bishop Romero continues to die again and again as he allowed "himself to be assailed by all this misunderstanding and slander." Why these malicious accusations against the late bishop?

Bishop Romero was just an ordinary cleric doing what most bishops do until "he saw the longing in the faces of his people," pointed out Fr. John Welch, OCarm in his 2001 speech before the General Chapter of the Order of Carmelites, adding that this experience turned him into an "outspoken courageous shepherd of his people."

Welch said:
As he celebrated the funerals of those killed by the powerful, and read off the names of the disappeared, he found it was his duty more and more to give voice to these voiceless ones, to express their oppressed longings - to embody in his courageous presence the holy longing of the Salvadoran people.

Bishop Romero went out of his comfort zone urged by the promptings of the Holy Spirit and running the risk of losing his life and of being maligned even by his brothers in the priesthood. Sadly, even until his death his martyrdom continues.

Theology students from Inter-Congregational Theological Center interacts with the tribal leaders and children of #Manilakbayan2015 at the #KampuhanSaLiwasan

The lumads suffer the same consequence, their struggles downplayed and their concerns relegated with allegations of involvement with the armed struggle in the country sides. In reality, the nightmare of the lumads stemmed from their opposition to the entry of exploitative and destructive enterprise into their land.

While many of us are unable to give more than what we have, many, like the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus' time, would take the stance of the exploiting elite, deliberately turning a blind eye on Christ's anawin – the poor, oppressed, exploited and marginalized – for them to meet their selfish motives. And even if they compensate with charitable acts with their foundations and other social involvement, all these are nothing in the eyes of God. "They will receive a very severe condemnation," Jesus said. 

But as with the poor widow, the poor, oppressed, exploited, and the marginalized in our society like the lumads are the ones who are able to live the teachings of Christ. Perhaps this is the reason why Christ said that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).

So, can we pay our way to heaven? Apparently, not, after all the most meaningful act of charity is when we offer ourselves for others.

Let us pray.

Lord, Jesus, we are grateful to you for allowing us to share in your work of ministering to our poor, oppressed, exploited, and marginalized brothers and sisters. Help us to learn to be more like the widow, who, in all humility, is able to surrender all that she has for your glory. Amen.


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