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.
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.
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?
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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