The Scribes And The Poor Widow

September 17, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 12:35-42

1. In today's gospel reading we find the scribes of the law and a poor widow. Although the scribes have appeared in Jesus' talk, they did not actually appear in person in this scene. In one sense, both religiously and socially, they were a very respected people. In another sense, both religiously and socially, they were one of the most despised peoples. Jesus said about the scribes that "they would receive a judgment double in severity," but then in regard to the small act by the poor widow he was ready to summon the disciples and make them aware of that.

The Scribes And The Poor Widow

2. First, let's think about the scribes. They were specialists in the law. Becoming a scribe was not easy to do. For long years one took lessons in studying the law. Then formally one was appointed and became a scribe of the law. What were they thinking in aspiring to become a scribe? Their motives probably differ in various ways. But if the person was a devout Jew, it must have been a great joy to serve God, to prepare and take lessons in the law as someone given the desire by God to take part in God's law.

3. Also, before Paul became a Christian he used to study under the famous rabbi named Gamaliel. In The Book Of The Acts Of The Apostles when Paul was looking back upon himself, he once had spoken as follows. "I am a Jew born in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia. And in that capital city I grew up and I received a strict education in the law of our ancestors under Gamaliel, and I have served God fervently just like you all today," (Acts 22:3). When we read his testimony which is recorded in Acts in this way, we're told that he was studying the law with a zeal to genuinely serve God. Perhaps Paul alone wasn't special. I suppose everybody at first used to study with a genuine enthusiasm thinking about God.

4. But, it is also true what Jesus is saying about the scribes. They started out in their walk with a genuine desire, but somewhere along the line without realizing it, they started liking walking around wearing long robes. The long robes were a symbol of authority. It was very important to them that people recognize their authority. As a result, they must have continuously asserted their authority. And they eventually required being greeted in the market place. They became greatly interested in being respected by the people. They started wanting to be seated in the seats of honor in the synagogues and in the seats of honor at banquets. They required that they take a slightly higher position than the others. And they started to require being served [food] by the people. The law of God commands that they protect the widows and the orphans. They should have known that. But, they could care less about their forcing great burdens upon the homes of the widows by the things they caused to happen. Furthermore, they made long prayers, not to speak to God, but to show off to others. It became more important to them that they be considered devout by men and women than they be regarded for their faith by God. What ever happened to them on the inside!? The problem is obvious. It is that [the focus of] their concern transferred from God to people.

5. To be honored by people, to be respected by people, to be esteemed by people are not in and of themselves evil or detestable. But, the honors of this world constantly include the peril of separating our interests away from God. We often call failures and frustrations trials. But, in the sense that we ourselves are being tested, then we should probably say that the times we are esteemed, respected and honored by people will be a much more harsh test indeed.

6. Jesus said, "They would receive a judgment double in severity." Though one was recognized by others for one's authority, though respected and seen as a higher-up person, what is it worth, if it ends with judgment!?

7. Let's turn our attention next on the personage of the poor widow. Jesus sat facing the offering collection box, and he was looking at how the people were giving their offerings. Many of the wealthy people came and presented large monetary offerings. After [them], a poor widow came and put in two copper coins [each called] lepton. The text says this is equivalent to one kodrantes. I suppose if we speak in today's money it would be about one hundred yen [or a dollar]. But, Jesus saw this and said, "I clearly tell you. This poor widow, among all the people who have put into the collection box, has put in more than anyone else; because everyone put in from within their abundance, but she put in her entire living expenses, everything that she had from within her poverty," (verses forty-three and forty-four).

8. They say thirteen donation boxes, shaped like a trumpet, were placed in the temple. How much someone offered was clear to the gaze of anyone nearby. In that place amid a crowd of wealthy persons offering their large sums of money to offer two copper lepta coins would have been absolutely impossible for a person only interested in esteem from men and women. The reason she was there was evidently that she needed to do it. Her thanks for being given life by God and her love for her God propelled her to do it.

9. The Lord said that the two coins that this poor widow presented were all of her living expenses. But, why did the Lord even summon for the disciples and call their attention to her actions? The Lord said, "because everyone put in from within their abundance, but she put in her entire living expenses, everything that she had from within her poverty." But, did he deliberately summon the disciples to tell them, "You simply cannot evaluate [a person] by the amount of money [given]" and to call their attention to "The ratio of the offering with respect to daily living expenses alone is greater than the rich persons' offerings...?" I don't think he did. What did he mean by "she put in more than anyone else?"

10. Please look at the widow's offering. What appeared in the eyes of men and women was the two small copper coins. But, what appeared in Jesus' eyes was not two mere coins. It was her entire living expense. She never could have offered them unless she was trusting in God. What Jesus was looking at was the widow's reliance [upon God]. Her reliance upon God is [why] she was so ready to offer it up to God so devotedly and with love and thanksgiving unto God. Jesus was looking at the unseen part of her offering. He made the disciples turn their eyes upon it as an offering that God truly stopped to observe.

On Behalf Of The Poor Disciples

11. So, in this way we have seen the figures of the scribes and the figure of the poor widow contrasted with them. What should we take in from this? Is it that we should live like this poor widow and reflect upon the way of life of those like the scribes? That certainly is important as well. But, it is not enough to just read today's passage of scripture as just the words of a commandment for us. I think you've already realized that and in today's sermon I still haven't said anything related to verses thirty-five to thirty-seven. If we don't read this section, today's sermon won't conclude.

12. Jesus said, "Why do the scribes of the law say, 'The messiah is the son of David.'? David himself received the Holy Spirit and said, 'The Lord announced to my Lord, Come to the seat on my right hand. Until I make your enemies surrender under your feet.' In this way then, even though David himself called the messiah Lord, how is the messiah the son of David?," (verses thirty-five through thirty-seven).

13. That the messiah was to be born as a descendant of David is prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. Therefore, even in the times of Jesus, the people were steadfastly waiting in hope for a messiah to be born from Davidic lineage. However, the phrase "son of David" has meant more than just the messiah's being born as a descendant of David. The messiah's coming meant the lost throne of David would be restored. That is, [it meant] the rebuilding of the great kingdom in which the messiah would govern. The people were waiting in hope for the arrival of the king who would set Israel free from Gentile rule and establish a mighty and independent kingdom. And beyond any doubt the public believed Jesus of Nazareth to be the one who was supposed to become this very king.

14. But Jesus rejected that the messiah is "the son of David" in that sense. He is not a mere political liberator or a restorer of the Davidic throne, but Jesus is saying here that he is more than that. It is Psalm one hundred and ten that Jesus is quoting here. The first "Lord" refers to the Lord God Yahweh in the Old Testament, the second "Lord" refers to the messiah. In other words, the messiah is not only the son of David, more than that, he is also David's Lord.

15. And the truth [be told], as the son of David Jesus was not about to proceed down the path of glory heading for a worldly throne resplendent as the people expected. He is more than a king in this world. As it is sung in Psalm one hundred and ten, he is the one who is worthy to take the seat on the right hand of God. He is worthy to take the heavenly throne. But, the entire conversation that I read to you today had taken place in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, around it, after a few days, Jesus will die upon a cross. This is the walk of Jesus which the gospel is telling us about.

16. This gospel is telling us that in accordance with the will of God the Father he, who is worthy to take the heavenly throne, walked in a completely opposite direction from the path of glory where he would receive honor from men and women, that is, he walked the path to the cross. In accordance with the will of God the Father he chose the path where he would be rejected by the world, even rejected by his disciples, and amid shouts of ridicule and curses he would die upon the cross in solitude. In accordance with the will of the father, he would become the atoning sacrifice for our sins in order to save us. He followed in obedience trusting in the will of his father who saves us. That widow offered up all of her living expenses. And Christ offered up his own life, all of himself, for our salvation. In this manner then, Jesus had offered up his trust and reliance upon God for us.

17. This same Jesus summoned for his disciples and had them take note of the widow's actions. When he did that it just wasn't with the meaning that they "be like the widow and not like those scribes." Jesus knew that before too long he would be hung on the cross and die. And he knew that if the disciples were following in these footsteps of Christ they could not walk the path of receiving accolades from the people like the scribes [did]. He summoned these disciples and when he made them turn their eyes on this widow Jesus surely must have been thinking as follows. "While you offer up your poor selves, while you offer up your trust to God, you guys will soon live like this widow, neglected by others, or even worse while being made fool of by others. At that time, I want you to remember something for me, that I took notice of this poor widow when she offered up her trust. Even though no one notices, I will take notice of you. And why? Because at that time you will certainly be walking after me, walking the path to the cross."