We continue traveling through the last week of Jesus’ life in this lead up to Palm Sunday.  Which does seem a little bit backwards but given that we finish reading Mark on Easter Sunday when else would we explore these stories?

According to Borg and Crossan in The Last Week, this week’s passage, as well as the passage we just read on Sunday past and the passage we read on March 13, all take place on Tuesday.  Which apparently was a really busy day filled with teaching and confrontation.

Good Samaritan Stained Glass
Good Samaritan Stained Glass

The passage this week (Mark 12:28-44) seems to have 4 separate  items that are not obviously linked other than the fact that they all happen in the same general location. We have the greatest commandment(s), a discussion about the Messiah as David’s son (or not), warnings about false piety and seeking honour, and the well-loved story about the widow’s two small coins.  You can read the passage here.

Click here for the Working Preacher commentary or here for the WP podcast. And the Text this Week has items here.

Earlier I said that the 4 items don’t seem to be linked.  But really the only one I can’t make fit is the sidebar about the Messiah being David’s Son. Everything else, in my mind, links back to how we live out the great commandments.

Do our rituals get in the way of our living out love for God and Neighbour and Self? AS the WP commentary suggests with a powerful reference to The Godfather (probably more powerful if one has actually seen the movie), do our rituals allow us to forget to live out the commandment/provide us a shelter from them? Do we sometimes think that a grand show will hide how pious we actually are?

THe Widow's Mite -- Jan Lukyen
The Widow’s Mite — Jan Lukyen

Then there is the story of the widow.  In the RCL this passage  comes up in the fall, often right in the middle of “Stewardship Season” (personally I think Stewardship has no “season” but if it did that would best be placed in January-February but that is a topic for another day). And that may lead us into a strange reading of it.  For years I have heard how the point of the story being told is to praise the high level of commitment the widow shows. Or maybe it is used to shame the upper-middle and upper income folks in our midst to give more.

I think that misses the point.  The verse before the story of the widow refers to those who devour widow’s houses. When we ask (or require) those who have little to give even that to the religion are we truly living out the commandment to love? Is Jesus praising the widow or condemning the structure that claims her mite? That might be an uncomfortable discussion to have in our churches. What do we do if we suspect someone is living in rags so that she/he can continue to be generous?

Is it about balancing those loves of God, neighbour and self? Is that the answer to the seeking of honour, to keeping religious rites and rituals in their correct perspective, to think carefully about how much we share — how we “render unto God those things that are God’s” (to refer back to the reading from February 28).

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8 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary Leanings: Love God, Love Neighbour — Plus a Side of Widow’s Mite Edition (Mark 12:28-44)

  1. I actually am thinking of taking it kind of the other way around, ritual prayer as a way of living out our faith, but not only as ritual, as reminder and motivation. I plan to look at the Shema, the 5 Islamic calls to prayer, and then either or both the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer that was taught to me many years ago and has become a personal daily prayer. I found audio recordings of the Shema and Islamic prayers so the hearing can be a bit more authentic than me trying to stumble through it. I’m not 100% sure of where I’m going from there.


    1. Interesting approach. Because those practices could go either way in the end..strengthen our resolve/ability to act out the faith or serve as a hiding place to avoid acting out the faith. I suspect that when done “properly” they move us to action.


  2. Ched Myers says this:

    “Mark unsparingly caricatures the scribe as one who at every stage of social life wishes to be endowed with special privilege and status–the most important commodities in the attainment of social power in Mediterranean honor culture. These attitudes are of course antithetical to Jesus’ instructions to his own community concerning being ‘last’ and ‘servant.’ We now understand Jesus’ ambivalence to the scribe in 12:34; the entire class is being dismissed as unfit for discipleship.”

    The news for scribes gets worse… They are “devouring the estates of widows under the pretext of saying long prayers.”

    Again, according to Myers, Mark may be alluding to the :practice of scribal trusteeship of the estates of widows (who as women could not be entrusted to manage their deceased husbands affairs!)”

    Myers holds that the widow is not a contrast to the scribes, but is instead an example of the scribes’ greed. Verse 12:43 signals “The temple has robbed this woman of her very means of livelihood. Like the scribal class, it no longer protects widows, but exploits them. As if in disgust, Jesus “exits” the temple–for the final time (13:1a).”

    This is where I’m heading.


  3. I am thinking about how expecting the widow to give her all is a bit like asking those who are poor to give up all nice things in life (i.e. you can’t buy this with SNAP, etc.). It might also tie in with pastorlia is saying.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder if reading about the Widow at this time of year instead of during Stewardship Season when we feel the need (real or imagined) to push to meet the budget gives us more freedom to explore those sorts of questions Tracy and pastorlia?

    One of the pieces that is unclear to me is whether the widow is giving a gift (that she may not be able to afford) or paying a required tithe/temple tax? Seems to me I have heard both understandings over the years.


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