If I were to tell someone that I was thinking of the relevance of tomorrow’s Gospel at 5.30 waiting at a bus stop on a dark November morning in an Irish town, I can well imagine they would express some surprise.
In tomorrow’s Gospel there are two stark images: the ruling classes lording it over their subjects and then the generosity of one of those subjects giving the little she had for the support of the state.
Jesus says: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers.” (Mark 12: 38)
Last Sunday I had an early start. I was out of Dublin and had to be back in the city for 9am. It meant catching a bus at 5.45. While we may have put back the clocks it’s dark at that hour. Well, 6am came, but still no bus at 6.15. At 06.30, I decided there was no point in standing at a lonely bus stop on a November morning. I went back to my accommodation and had a cup of coffee before heading out for the next bus at 7.20am.
There were nine other people waiting for the bus that never arrived. They were all younger than I. Some were heading for Dublin Airport, some going home after a night’s work. One young man was a security worker making his way home, which was about 60 kilometres away.
He pointed out to me that a taxi would cost him between €40 and €50, which would eat into the money he had made during his night’s work.
I think it’s fair to say that people who wait for buses in the middle of the night are not usually the wealthiest in our society.
Indeed, I can imagine they belong to that group who have the least resources. They certainly are not among the high-earners in the country.
What struck me at the bus stop and then later while travelling on the next bus was that people who have resources have little or no understanding of what life is like for those with little or meagre resources.
And is that not the lesson for us that is written all over tomorrow’s Gospel?
Far too often there is the temptation to get all “pious and religious” about the Gospels and all aspects of faith.
For our faith to be a living reality, the story told in the Gospels are clearly to be seen in our everyday lives.
The disconnect that exists between the Gospel stories and the lives we live might well explain why so many people are alienated and marginalised when it comes to having any understanding or relevance to the faith, and into the society into which most of us in Ireland were born.
I know this might sound silly, but it was real for me at that bus stop: I wonder when last was did a bishop stand at the side of the road before dawn for an hour waiting for a bus that never came? Or indeed, how often captains of industry or government ministers wait at bus stops for buses that never arrive?
It’s complex. As we have seen recently, people with abundant resources can criticise those with little or nothing, and yet on the other hand, it is always seen as admirable when people extend the hand of generosity to those who are less fortunate and less well off.
One thing seems sure to me and that is it is always dangerous and wrong to generalise and cast scorn on those who are struggling.
And then I think of the words in tomorrow’s Gospel where Jesus casts scorn on the men in their long robes, who like to be greeted obsequiously in the market square. Even a touch of onomatopoeia about it!
Whatever style clothes they might be wearing, those ladies and gentlemen are alive and well in our world.
The challenge of the Gospels is startling and right in front of our eyes. We need to be fully aware there is a problem and realise that we all share the obligation to make our world, our place, somewhere which does not tolerate such inequality.
The Gospels merit repeated reading. They offer hope.