Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 12:38-44, The Message or Mark 12:38-44, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Having successfully bested all challengers from the Jerusalem elites, Jesus now honourably moves to the offensive. However, as we move into the denunciation of these elites and the Temple, it is good to remember the Scribe we met last week whom Jesus praised with the high honour of being "not far from the Kingdom of God." Which is another way of remembering that what is being condemned is behaviour, and not a whole class of people.
And of course, before we get wagging our fingers at these Scribes, we should also remember to examine our own behaviours first. Are they any among us who have not felt entitled to be greeted with respect, to have our favourite seat in church or the honoured place at the potluck. Do any of live in ways that impoverish others - while reciting long prayers? Let those without sin cast the first stone I say. Well, actually it was Jesus who said that.
As Malina and Rohrbaugh note (see footnote below), Jesus has just condemned the Scribes for bankrupting widows, and then we see a widow giving her last coins - perhaps as part of her personal piety and devotion - but certainly in keeping with the various Temple obligations. She is bankrupted by religiously sanctioned regulations.
Jesus does not comment on how women's utter economic dependence on men because of social and religious customs and traditions forced all but a fortunate few widows into poverty. So we need to be cautious that his praise of her example doesn't cause us to lose sight of the broader social-systemic issue - Why is this widow poor?
But we also need to not lose sight of Jesus' observation:
The wealthy have contributed out of their surplus in a way that does no harm to their continuing to be wealthy.
The widow has contributed all she has.
That the widow has contributed all that she has is subtly underlined by the fact that she put in TWO small coins. Having two coins means that, poor though she was, she could have kept one coin for herself. But her devotion is total, no half-measures for her!
The widow who has given "all she had to live on" foreshadows the coming contribution of Jesus to his mission of proclaiming God's Good News of non-violent justice in the face of Rome's violent injustice. Like the widow, Jesus holds nothing back.
She - and Jesus - set a standard that challenges us to re-examine just where-who-what we think our wealth is.
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, see link below, pages 203-204.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
Mark 12:38-44 (NRSV)
38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then 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. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 12:38-44 (The Message)
38 He continued teaching. "Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, 39 basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. 40 And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they'll pay for it in the end."
41 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. 42 One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. 43 Jesus called his disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. 44 All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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