Condemnation or commendation? – Saturday- 9th Week in Ordinary time- Mark 12:38-44
Perhaps what causes all the conflicts while reading this pericope, is that in the Bible, this pericope is separated by a title, making it seem like two pericopes rather than one. The Bible has verse 38 to 40 with the title, “Jesus denounces the scribes” which amounts to a condemnation and then verses 41 to 44 are titled, “the widow’s offering” which makes it a commendation. So what really is this pericope all about?
To better understand the point being made, we need to read this text in its larger context of Mark chapter 12, in which Jesus is having a battle royal with the Jewish authorities and in particular, with the scribes. After having fended off the traps and wily ways of the Jewish leaders, Jesus goes into attack mode.
It would be a mistake to think that the point of this pericope is the charity of the widow, for Jesus was presenting the widow as a contrast to the ostentatious and hypocritical scribes who search for honour and prestige. Beneath the folds of their religious robes were hidden their desire and lust for power and position. Couple this with their greed, which did not even spare the widows who were presented in antiquity as persons worthy of protection by the community.
The scribes who were interpreters of the religious law also provided legal services because of their learning. This dual role perhaps created an impression in the minds of hapless widows who assumed that the services rendered, would be honest. Why would an unsuspecting widow think less of a lawyer with a reputation for piety?
But wolves in sheep’s clothing they were, for many of them received their fee by appropriating a portion of the land owned by the widow while some served as ‘trustees’ of the widow’s estate. It is no wonder that Jesus’ accusation is clear; “they devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance, say long prayers.”
The words of Jesus would have stung the scribes for Jesus exposes their hypocrisy right in the temple. Then sitting opposite the treasury, He contrasts and commends a widow who put in two small copper coins. Sixty four such coins would make a denarius, a day’s wage; and she put in all she had.
Unfortunately, this unnamed widow has inadvertently been used by preachers and pastors who have misunderstood the real message of Jesus; for she was to be merely a contrast in the pericope to the conniving scribes and not the subject of a homily on charity. This passage has become a classic case of missing the woods for the trees.
Perhaps, even today, we are using and abusing the ‘widow’! The call of Jesus to His Church, and most certainly to its leaders, is for them to be authentic witnesses of Christian living. While finances and administrative burdens weigh us down, we must be clear that it can never be used as a solution to our problems by driving guilt into our congregations to give charitably to the Church. Even more, for the unimaginable thought of personal gain!
Fr Warner D’Souza