When you hear that someone is “acting out” it usually isn’t heard as a compliment. It connotes someone under stress showing his or her true colors, a person revealing through behavior something of what they are really like on the inside. But the expression doesn’t have to be taken in only a negative sense. It can also be a window into the positives that reside in a person’s deeper parts – as when in some emergency a person instinctively risks her life to save someone else’s.
In the gospels, Jesus gives numerous examples people “acting out” their religion, showing the true colors of their faith.
In Mark’s 12th chapter, for instance, there are the scribes, many of them genuine but a few whom were not. Jesus sees these deficient ones as “acting out” their inner sense of what religion — and God — means to them. And that is, a way to impress others and call attention to themselves, indeed a perennial temptation for leading figures in every faith. But more damning, they use their position to take advantage of the vulnerable, here destitute widows from whom they would exact burdensome levies.
These men present themselves as having inside knowledge of God. But their instinctual, deep down sense of who Yahweh is for them reveals a deity who uses power to impress and dominate the weak. Their actions and attitudes give away their warped sense of who God is for them.
Then there’s the very poor, hardly noticed widow who also “acts out” who the Holy One is for her. Her God is all giving, constantly generous, always looking to further the wellbeing of others. In giving up her last two coins, she is “acting out” how she experiences God; i.e., the mercy-filled, magnanimous, sacrificing Being whose love is at the center of not only her universe, but of The universe.
She approaches with two coins and could have dropped just one into the collection and understandably kept the other. But she gives not just some of what she has, but all of it. Here we see her acting out, not only the God she intuits, but the very one Jesus is proclaiming: his loving, all-forgiving Father.
Not to be missed is the way Mark positions her story to set a tone for everything that comes after; i.e., Jesus Christ in his sacrificial death, giving all he has, for our sakes. This is Jesus, “acting out” his inner sense of who God is for him.
For all who follow Vincent, it’s no challenge to discern the contours of his feel for God: the all Loving One pouring out goodness on everyone, particularly on those who are poor.
The widow’s story is an occasion to ask ourselves what our behavior communicates of God, what our attitudes reveal of our awareness of who the Almighty really is? And most to the point for disciples of Jesus, in what concrete ways can we move closer to “acting out” his experience of his all-loving Father.
Always good to catch a reflection from our Vincentian Brothers. Thanks for sharing with all of us.
Thanks, Paule. Good to hear from you.