Condemnation or commendation? – Sunday- 32nd 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?