11.13.2010

Mark 12: An Alternative Exegesis

The other day I heard a striking exegesis of a well known passage in Mark 12.  I have heard numerous sermons preached on these verses, yet, I've never heard this interpretation of it.  So, I'm going to give the brief overview of the exegesis, but first here is Mark 12:38-44.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

The passage is familiar.  The question posed is, what is Jesus saying about the widow? After hearing the exegesis the other day I would conclude that the passage has little to do with the widow!  Rather, it's about the corruption of the Temple and the "teachers of the law".

First, Jesus warns the disciples about the teachers of the law: those who wear wealthy attire, and sit in prominent positions in synagogues and banquets. Why?  Because they "devour widows' houses".  In other words, they care nothing for the poor and in fact, contribute to the poor's demise.  It's these people, who are associated with the temple, that will be punished severely!

Then Jesus goes "across the street" from the offerings and sits down watching as the rich put their wealth into the offering for the temple.  A poor widow comes along soon and puts in her 2 pennies, all that she has.  Jesus gathers his disciples and - contrary to popular Bible teaching - does not commend the widow on her faith, but points to the issue within the temple system.  This widow gave everything, and now she has nothing to live on and the teachers of the law, from the temple, will do nothing to help her.

The immediately following verses are Mark 13, which is Jesus prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple.  While the disciples marvel, Jesus is left unmoved, "Not one stone will be left on another."

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