Notes on the lectionary with Deacon Lincoln Anderson. Visit the series page.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
(Mark 12:41–44, ESV)
The Greater Condemnation
Before we get into the widow’s offering, let’s take a moment to consider what Jesus says about the scribes. After the teaching on the Greatest Commandment, Jesus asks the crowd about the scribes’ teaching that the Christ would be the son of David. He points out the logical error of this, since David himself calls the Messiah “Lord.” If the Messiah is David’s Lord, then how could he be David’s son?
From here, Jesus gives a warning about the scribes – they are not truly about the business of understanding God or doing the work of His Kingdom. They are more concerned with outward appearances, with gaining honor, wealth, and prestige. The way they gain these things include the oppression of those who are defenseless and marginalized. Jesus specifically names widows as being prey for the scribes’ greed.
Why do they receive the “greater condemnation”? I think in part it is because their life’s work was supposed to be about the study and faithful reproduction of the Hebrew Scriptures. In that study, they would have been exposed over and over again to God’s commands in the Law to care and defend the widow, and to treat honestly and humbly with their brothers and sisters in Israel. They would have seen what happened to God’s people when they failed to do this. They would have read the prophets’ condemnations against political and religious leaders who abused the poor and marginalized. Even so, they valued themselves above the widows. They manifested a violation of the second Great Commandment (which is like the first) in acting uncharitably towards their neighbors.
The Widow’s Offering
Mark’s narrative turns from Jesus’ teaching to his observations of the people in Jerusalem and the giving of gifts to the treasury of the Temple. Many rich people came and gave great contributions, but Jesus focuses on the poor widow who gives only two copper coins, which the English translation says summed to a penny. The note in the ESV on verse 42 gives the Greek rendering, and points out that the penny would have been far less than a day’s wages. To a casual observer who only looked at the value of the gifts, it would surely seem as if the widow valued the Temple far less than the rich benefactors.
This is exactly why Jesus gives the insight that the two small coins were all that the widow had to live on. God sees the heart of a person and the fullness of the circumstance of their life. The rich people gave richly, but it was “out of their abundance” and so was a small sacrifice or even a token of the wealth they had. The widow gave “out of her poverty” and so demonstrated that the Lord and his Temple had far more worth to her even than her own life.
Out of Her Poverty
Something that stands out to me in this account is that Jesus has just condemned the scribes for “devouring widows’ houses.” Almost on the heels of that condemnation, we hear about a widow who’s outwardly small gift is shown to be greater than the extravagances of the wealthy. Does this in some way provide a demonstration for the depth of the scribes’ error?
I said earlier that in part I think the “greater condemnation” on the scribes was simply because they should have known better. Another piece of that condemnation is that in their persecution and abuse of widows they came against women like the widow in this account, who show themselves to be lovers of God and his ways. By being enemies of widows, they made themselves enemies of God.
“Make us Children of God”
The collect for this week first recalls to mind that Jesus came into the world for two purposes – to destroy the works of the devil and to rescue us from condemnation, making us children of God. We then ask God to give us the ability to purify ourselves to be like Jesus so that when he returns we may be “made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom.”
Consider how this collect relates to the Gospel reading today. What works of the devil is Jesus addressing? How does the lesson today show him making use children of God? What lessons from the reading should we take away for seeing to purify ourselves “as he is pure”? Please answer in the comments!