I want to begin by taking note of the line just before the passage we’re about to use for our reflection. “The great crowd heard this with delight.” (Mark 12:37b) Remember that Jesus was on his final journey to Jerusalem. His condemnation by the religious right was to lead to his death very soon. One of the reasons the religious leadership was so against him was that he often criticized the oppressive orthodoxy of the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees. They saw themselves as the models of observant Judaism. His criticism stung and belittled them in the eyes of the ordinary people who bore their heavy religious yoke.
Jesus’ opening statement to the large crowd following him was like the crack of a The Pastor’s Reflections whip. “Beware of the scribes.” There were scribes among the crowd. The people must have been turning their heads to take note of them. What was Jesus going to say about them?
He began by criticizing their flamboyant style of dressing. They wore long flowing robes. This was a sign of nobility. They couldn’t walk quickly because of all the fabric they were dragging along. So they would walk slowly and regally among the ordinary people who had to dress practically so that they could work and move about easily.
They enjoyed the greetings of respect they received as they slowly meandered among the common folk. People addressed them as rabbi, a title recognizing their learning and exalted state. They were given the front seats in the synagogue near the ark containing the scrolls of the Law. The benches where they sat faced the congregation. There, dressed in their flowing robes, they looked down over the ordinary people.
They enjoyed the places of honor at banquets. Seating protocol was quite strict at the time. The first place of honor was at the right of the host – the second at his left. 2 Moving right to left along the table the order of importance was clearly established.
Jesus noted that they devoured the houses of widows. Even though scholars of the law were not to receive payment for their teaching, they conveyed a clear message to people that it was a privilege to support a rabbi. Many women, especially widows, reached out to support these men. In their simple religious fervor they would often go without in order to support these living symbols of orthodoxy, the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees.
Jesus condemned all these practices. He even went to the extent of saying that these grandiose leaders would “receive a very severe condemnation.” These “religious” men must have been seething inside when he publically condemned them. They could say nothing in response. If they did so, they would only embarrass themselves before the people.
Leaving the crowd in the court of the Gentiles, Jesus went into another part of the temple and sat down opposite the treasury. It was a quiet place between the court of the Gentiles and the court of the Women. He probably needed some down time after the stress of his confrontation with the scribes.
The treasury had thirteen golden trumpets that were used as shoots into which people put their donations. Some were for contributions for the daily sacrifices others for the support of the temple. Jesus noted that some people put in very large sums of money. By contrast, Jesus noted a widow who dropped in two small coins that were worth only a few cents. He marveled at her generosity. He called the disciples together and pointed out the widow to them. “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.” He had been making the point to the scribes that their exterior piety was, more often than not, merely flamboyant narcissism. This widow was authentic and heartfelt in her giving. It was a tremendous sacrifice for her to give away her two coins.“They have contributed from their wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
This image of the widow’s sacrificial giving acts as an introduction to the Passion. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem where he will begin his personal Passover. He is the Lamb of God. His death is imminent. He will willingly give all he has for the life of the world.