Posts Tagged ‘Mark’

The famous story of the ‘widow’s mite’ is a beloved slice of the gospels’ narrative testimony about Jesus. Her skinny little offering—amidst large and clanging competitors—touches a sentimental nerve in sympathetic readers.

A less natural readerly instinct notices that Mark places this vignette just after a more somber warning to the religious and the powerful.

And in his teaching (Jesus) said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

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 12:38–44 ESV)

The juxtaposition of these two stories suggests that those who threw their impressive offerings into the receptacle with due fanfare are actually the devourers of widow’s houses, their livelihood, their slender remaining means of economic viability.

Thus, they are God’s enemies, notwithstanding their awesome religiosity.

Indeed, read closely, the syntax of Jesus’ warning to unjust worshippers is chilling in the way it speaks of criminal injustice and long prayers in a single breath:

And in his teaching he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplacesand have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ (Mark 12:38–40 ESV)

Our widow, notorious for administering her poverty in a way that nourished generosity in spite of everything, is often read as the mere encouragement of similar sacrifice. She is God’s friend.

This is not wrong. It is simply partial.

More accurately, the widow is an inspiring figure in a broader instruction that ought to send a chill down the spine of every religious man and woman who sucks the economic life out of her sisters while chattering on about God, their sworn enemy.




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It would have been a heady experience to walk Galilean roads in he the company of the prophet from Nazareth. Not only was the intimacy of life shared with him available to precious few. His select ‘disciples’ could also look back on the experience of having been chosen by name.

Most of us do not wake one morning with aspirations of greatness that had never afflicted us before. Rather, the accumulation of perquisites that gather around modest success gradually adds up to something. Sometimes it is lethal.

We so easily begin to sense that we merit these things, these minders, this cell phone, the undeniable whiff of prestige that follows us about, this company car. We begin to sense our greatness. We never asked for it, yet it is there in the professionally servile glances of these minders.

It grows on us.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

Though the image of the impoverished fisherman out fending off the wolf of hunger by braving the sea’s waves in the early morning may owe more to romanticism than to reality, Jesus’ followers seem generally to have come from modest origins. (more…)

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The gospels narrate the words and deeds of Jesus in the common Greek vernacular of their time. This simple linguistic observation might obscure the fact that Jesus’ first and most commonly used language was almost certainly not Greek. He seems to have employed Aramaic as his lingua franca, though he was probably capable of managing Hebrew and Greek.

Nothing about this is extraordinary. We are accustomed to reading about the lives of great and less-than-great men and women in translation. (more…)

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When sick people are made well and the deranged are freed of the forces and persons that enslave their minds, we are meant to shout, clap, sing, and dance.

There are a thousand reasons not to do so. Most of them are a subset of the large sin called blasphemy, writ small on the canvas of stingy little men and women.

Jesus set so many paralytics to walking and speechless to talking that people, overwhelmed by the scope and scale of it, concluded that he has lost his mind. (more…)

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Jesus’ emerges from his strange encounter with destitution, abandonment, and triumph over satanic manipulation to re-enter civilization as an extraordinarily empowered teacher. Clearly, something happened to him out there.

The heavenly voice of Jesus’ Father had expressed its satisfaction with his filial beloved, only to drive him into the desert for forty days. There he was to encounter, seemingly alone, the intelligent and articulate shrewdness of his worst enemy. Jesus, by Mark’s account, won that battle by persistent simplicity. He countered satanic sophistry with the simple declaration of the relevant truth. Only a man well acquainted with Scripture and its interpretation could have done so. Yet Jesus’ cut and thrust were not complex. He knew reality, articulated it in the face of other-worldly enmity, and let the chips fall where they may. (more…)

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It is as interesting to consider what the blind beggar Bartimaeus saw before Jesus restores his sight as after.

Picking up the thread of an Isaianic promise that the Lord’s servant would restore sight to the blind, the sightless Bartimaeus discerns in the appearance of Nazareth’s roving Jesus the visit of a messianic figure. To the embarrassment of some, he calls him ‘Son of David’ and begs him for mercy. (more…)

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Jesus must have known his words would be overlaid upon the landscape of life like a template, checked for accuracy, doubted in anguished fashion, and celebrated when they seemed to describe the ironic intricacies of life more exactly than any others:

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”


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