Looks can be deceiving and blinding. How often we need the eyes of the other to see God’s presence in God’s church.
In today’s gospel Jesus points to the scribes and priests fancy vestments as a way to distinguish them from the unadorned poor woman who quietly, without fanfare and position in the temple, contributes to God’s church.
‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then 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.
A couple of days ago I was driving my father to a doctor’s appointment. Of late, my dear dad has not been the conversationalist he was in years past as he struggles to recover physical strength lost after an extended stay in the hospital for aspirational pneumonia. Cognitively as sharp as ever, but a little slower getting a thought or observation from his head to his mouth to express.
So, there we were on our way to his doctor visit. I had turned on some music knowing dad wouldn’t be chatting it up, short drive though it was. He is hard of hearing and sitting in the passenger makes hearing me a challenge.
We had been on route only a couple of minutes before stopping at a 4-way intersection when he uttered something. It was nearly inaudible so I thought he might be saying something to himself. But as we came to a complete stop at the sign, he repeated and pointed across the intersection to the corner house – a house I had observed before and wondered about. It was poorly taken care of in an otherwise neat and tidy neighborhood. It was a cottage like the others but had no wine-country, farmhouse charm. Eclectic is the best way of describing – bright, neon colors painted on some sections, funky stone work and an unkempt, overgrown yard. I had surmised it housed, at best, a 70’s bohemian – maybe a poet or artist – and at worst, people dealing in drugs.
As he pointed to the house, he repeated his utterance but more clearly, “Naked Ladies.” I heard him but had no clue what he meant. Hmm, I thought, maybe this odd looking cottage housed ‘naked ladies’, not drug dealers – and maybe they were in front and I didn’t see them? Or maybe dad was telling me something he knew and I didn’t? He was smiling and repeated again as I searched for them.
As we proceeded through the intersection and passed the house in question, he said, “I haven’t seen those since we moved here!” “What haven’t you seen, dad?” Those flowers – those right there – those beautiful naked ladies.” And indeed, that’s when I saw the enormous border bed of flowers that completely surrounded the cottage. Naked Ladies as in the Belladonna Lily.
Looks can be deceiving. When dad pointed across the street my mind’s eye took in only the house. I didn’t know to look for the flower – gardener that I am I never learned the common name of the flower. So I heard him literally – naked ladies – and tried to connect dots with what I had pre-known or judged of the little cottage – concluding in that very brief moment that it just might have been a house of ill repute, housing a bunch of naughty naked ladies (these pictures to the right are not of the bed in front of the cottage my dad observed, but of blooms I spied on my morning walk in my neighborhood).
I had assessed wrongly relying upon my impression of such an ‘oddly dressed cottage’ to make sense of my dad’s smiling face while uttering, “naked ladies.”
The sight brought the sweet smile to my dad’s face because of all the years he had spent in Southern California where the lily blooms happily and heartily every summer. And the sight of a that smile brought a smile to my face because of all the years my dear father has helped me see and know God’s presence and transcendence in our world. My dad’s eye for beauty, for color, for design, and harmony has opened my eye to this otherwise ugly, colorless, shapeless world I sometimes feel I live in.
Sort of like Jesus did with his disciples today. Pause – stop and sit here with me loved ones and take in this beautiful little moment. Don’t be blinded by the robes and the rituals and the surrounding temple – all distractions to the beauty of this moment. Look upon the poor widow with her copper coins, here in God’s church, doing the work we are all called to do. That should bring a smile to your face.
Praise God from whom all blessings – and Copper Coins and Naked Ladies – flow.
Friday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 140, 142; PM Psalm 141, 143:1-11(12)
2 Samuel 19:24-43; Acts 24:24-25:12; Mark 12:35-44
 NAKED, BUT NOT NAUGHTY If you’re a warm weather gardener you’ve probably heard of naked ladies. It’s a name that one tends to remember. And the blossoms are pretty unforgettable, too. These big South African ladies are happiest in hot, dry locations so they’re custom made for the southwest and other warm places where conditions can be controlled by moving containers around. Belladonna lilies come into their full glory in the late summer, a time when many other flowers have passed their prime for the year. Plant some this fall and they’ll delight you with big, aromatic blossoms for years to come.
Yes, dear friend, our perceptions are so partial, so blinded by our prior experience, that what we see is often more a mirror than a lens.