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For those who are always
worse off than others

Luke 21:20-28

Jesus’ words are inspired by what he saw and heard in the temple. Jesus saw the most normal thing in the world, that is, the shameless injustice of the rich who put crumbs that are superfluous to them into the temple treasury, and perceives the foolish gaze of those who think they are guaranteed by the magnificence of the temple. But he also sees the love for God and for the poor of a very impoverished widow. This makes us realize that Jesus’ discourse does not concern a special and unique time, the time of the final consummation of the world, but rather the time of history, the time in which we live and which is constantly battered by wars and catastrophes.

Francesco Hayez, “The Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem” (1867, detail).

Jesus sees and hears that affluent people do not understand, and that they always risk dying unaware of everything: of the evil they have done, of the good they have neglected to do. Exactly as it was in the times of Noah, and of Lot, so it is in our day. Jesus looked at reality with the wisdom of the Holy Scriptures of Israel and listened to them looking at what he had before his eyes, at the people he came across.

Jesus teaches us that it is not necessary for us to be fortune-tellers to know the unleashing of unjust powers. He teaches that it is enough to see a widow who possesses only two coins, a hungry or oppressed person – those poor who, he said with sorrow, we shall always have with us – to understand the existence of those unjust powers which have robbed and crushed them in this way, to understand the most unjust and perennial war, that of the rich against the poor. Jesus teaches that it suffices to see a person born blind, a paralytic, the anguish of a father for his dying little daughter, to understand the frailty and precariousness of every life. And using prophetic words and images, Jesus evokes the terrors and suffering which wars and catstrophes always inspire in human beings. Jesus teaches his disciples to see the pain, exhaustion and fear of others, each and every one. And to have an intelligent and compassionate gaze which knows that each and every one will die and knows the pain of this eternal threat.

He speaks of a Shoah (“tempest”) for Jerusalem, for Israel, which we well know is neither the first nor the last. And he urges: do not try to save your possessions, there will not even be time to take leave of those who are dear to you. Jesus speaks like Jeremiah in chapter 45: the only booty that the Lord can help you, possibly, to save is your own naked life.

a mosaic of the widow’s offering in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

And he speaks of those people who are in any case and always worse off than the others in the general disaster – pregnant women and those who are breast-feeding – mindful of the prophetic groan: “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore...”. It is marvellous that in his thoughts Jesus sees these poor women, the poorest among the poor, in the anguish of flight. This is not only because he turns his realistic, compassionate and utterly unusual gaze to women, but also, perhaps, because he sees in them an evangelically paradoxical situation: pregnant women and those who are breast-feeding – who live with their whole body on behalf of the human creature that they are raising, within themselves or in their arms – can only give it life by living and not dying; the duty of saving themselves too is incumbent on them.

And then Jesus urges his followers not to be afraid, as the angel was to say to the women at his tomb on Easter morning. Raise your heads and look: the coming of the Son of man is on the horizon. Do not conform to the fear that makes the world tremble. Do not be like those who do not know the Lord’s promise, do not tremble like those who do not await it. Do not be afraid, since fear for your life alone can impede the freedom and attention that are indispensable for living in love. Like the very poor widow, do not give a thought to your life. Do not be afraid because the end will be a return, an encounter, eye to eye.

The Sisters of Bose

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