Beware the Self-Important Ones

11 November 2018 – Proper 27/ Lectionary 32

Mark 12:38-44

In the first two verses, Jesus’ admonition to beware of the scribes is grounded in the scribes’ actions and behaviors, rather than in their teachings. They not only use their titles and social positions to improve their own circumstances, but they also think nothing of improving their own circumstances by confounding the circumstances of others. . . Jesus warns that the ones who will receive “the greater condemnation” are the ones whose primary motivation is self-aggrandizement. They use for their own benefit the gifts bestowed upon them by God and the community (sharp minds and public status), and they acquire for their own benefit the possessions of others, leaving the others poorer.

. . . It is important to notice that Jesus never actually praises the widow for her gift. He simply states that, while the wealthy gave a greater amount, the widow gave a larger percentage . . . indeed, one hundred percent. . .

This story has long been interpreted as a lesson on turning over all we have to God, and trusting in God completely. This is not necessarily a bad interpretation, but to reduce this story to only one lesson is to leave many lessons unlearned, especially when Mark 12:38–40 and 41–44 are read as a single story.

The reference to devouring widows’ houses in verse 40 invites us to consider the widow’s story that follows as a real-life example of a victim who suffers because of the sin of the scribes as described in verses 38–40. Perhaps the widow is being praised for her complete surrender and trust in God—or perhaps she is being recognized as a victim of the merciless oppression heaped on the most vulnerable members of society by the very ones called to care for her in the name of God. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker


1 Kings 17:8-16

As Mark’s widow in the temple gives all she has to live on, so the widow of Zarephath is invited to offer all she has to Elijah, the prophet of God. So, there is a strong parallel between the widows in these two stories; at the same time, there is a sharp contrast between Elijah the prophet and the scribes. The widow of Zarephath is provided for as she seeks to serve the man of God who has come into her home. The widow in the temple, on the other hand, becomes a victim of the scribes. . . –– Steven H. Fazenbaker

Hebrews 9:24-28

Prior to Christ’s sacrifice, “the priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own” (v 25); and furthermore, the Holy Place was “made by human hands, a mere copy of the true [sanctuary]” (v 24). Therefore, since both the place where the sacrifices were made, and the blood itself, were approximations, the annual rite of purification and forgiveness was also an approximation; the rite could never actually accomplish full purity and forgiveness. But the author of Hebrews proclaims that the sacrifice of Christ in the heavenly court is not an approximation, but the real thing. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker

Steven H. Fazenbaker, a United Methodist minister and previously the director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is now enrolled in a DMin program with a concentration in science and theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Homily Service 42, no. 4 (2009): 112-123.

David Turnbloom