The grammarians, who were the leadership of Jerusalem, recite lengthy prayers for our Gospel for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. The prayers recited are still in use today. The Jewish community refers to the first as the Shema, which constitutes Jesus’ Great Commandment, and is in Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-31. The Jewish community calls the second of these the Amidah or Standing Prayer of 18 Benedictions. It forms the heart of the Jewish liturgy performed three times per day by observant Jews.
Nothing in any of the benedictions is offensive to Christianity. The first three blessings of the Amidah are the Blessing of God as Father, God as Strength, and God as Holy. The next blessings are requests for: Knowledge, Return To God’s Way, Forgiveness, Redemption, Healing, Blessing Of God, Gathering Of The Exiles, Return Of Justice, Blessing Of The Charitable/Just, Request For God’s Return To Jerusalem, Return Of David’s Kingdom, A Request That Our Prayers Be Heard, A Request For The Return Of Temple Service As He Would Desire It, Thanks To God, And A Request For A Return Of Peace.
This condemnation of the leadership fur using lengthy prayers serves as a warning, for us. We would agree with any one of these prayers/blessings. Jesus quotes them as his Great Commandment. The problem is in their length, when combined into one liturgy. Shema is a public prayer, for the congregation.
Amidah is the silent prayer, one recites in the liturgy, silently. The temptation is to rush through this prayer so we finish when the rest of the congregation finishes. Because it is silent, we do not know when everyone else will finish. Do it fast, and do not meditate upon the words. When the emphasis is upon speed and not meditation, God cannot hear our prayer because there is nothing to here.
Think of those who pride themselves on reciting the rosary, with speed, and not contemplation. Think of those who pride themselves on hearing the Mass in Latin, because it is the church’s language. In the first century the emphasis was upon reading in Hebrew, when the colloquial language was Aramaic. God cannot hear these words because there is nothing to hear. There is only the babble of words, and in the case of Latin, words in a foreign language. For context, the Greek word Matthew uses in this passage for the villains is “Grammarian.” “Scribe,” is a Latin word.
The devouring the houses of widows, followed by the example of the poor widow’s small coins provides context. The article, “Why does the poor widow give her mite?” asks what motivates the widows in this Sunday’s readings. It also asks, “Can the grammarians, the leadership of the upper middle-class understand what it means to be poor. The answer is a very strong, “No!” The article concludes the poor widow gives more because she understands what it is like to be poor. The widow in the first reading also understands poverty, so is more willing to give.
We have our warning. We need to be like the widows in our stories for this Sunday. The great warning in our reading is not about dropping liturgy, but in listening to the words and acting upon what we hear. We need to understand the lot of the poor and how they poor see their world. Then, we need to act upon what we see.