Stroll through Scripture for March 10, 2024

Based on Mark 12:28-44

If last week’s reading moved us into the stage of conflict in the Temple, this week’s reading amplifies the conflict and what it’s really about.  Last week it was the Pharisees and the Herodians trying to trap Jesus. Jesus saw through it all and in the process embarrassed them.  This week, the conflict becomes sharper and Jesus exposes why his detractors are so very far from being just.  

It’s important to note that we are missing verses 18-27 in Chapter 12 in our weekly readings.  In that section, it is the Sadducees who confront Jesus with a theological debate about resurrection.  And if you remember from last Sunday’s reading in the beginning of Ch. 12, it was the Pharisees and the Herodians who are asking a question about paying taxes.  

The scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees are all in opposition to Jesus at this point.  They represent different political and religious interests and power of their day.  It’s like a giant religious-political soap opera.  All of these groups are more interested in the power dynamics for themselves and their group rather than what Jesus is going to talk about starting in today’s section of Mark.  

We are told that one of the scribes hears the disputes that have been doing on in the Temple grounds and comes over to where Jesus is and asks Jesus a key question – “Which commandment is the first of all?”  The scribe wasn’t part of the disputes.  Maybe he was just tired of the squabbling.  Maybe he just wanted to have some quiet again so he could get back to his work.  Or maybe something else.  Regardless, he asks a question that is designed to key into what is most important.   Jesus’ answer boils down to two things – love God, love neighbor.  

This answer, which the scribe verifies is correct, is in sharp contrast with what has been going on in Mark 12 up to this point and what is about to happen after the disputes.  When the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trap Jesus, are they loving God and neighbor?  When the Sadducees debate about resurrection through the lens of technicality, are they loving God and neighbor?  No in both cases.  And then Jesus denounces the scribes (although I’m wondering if he was including the friendly scribe who agreed with him).  Jesus points out the outward righteous appearance of the scribes while harboring an inner ugliness.  The scribes demand respect, but offer none to the poor, which is who they are supposed to be protecting.  Instead, their very systems “devour” the widows.  

After saying this, Jesus literally moves over to the treasury in the Temple and watches an example of what he just pointed out.  He watches a poor widow put in all she has for the offering.  Often this reading gets interpreted along the lines of “look at how giving the widow is.  You should give too.”  The reality is, this widow is victim of an unjust religious system that is sucking out of her everything that she has.  Where is the care and concern for the poor?  Where is the concern for the widow?  Isn’t the institution supposed to be there for them?  How is what the system props itself up on actually sharing good news to the poor?  Instead, this widow is essentially condemned to starve to death, yet fulfill some rule that was imposed on her.  

St. Ignatius of Loyola is quoted as saying “If our church is not marked by caring for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, we are guilty of heresy.”  What Jesus is observing in this moment is a form of that heresy – a living example of how systems, and in this case a religious system, ignored the key foundation of what the commandments were really about – loving God and loving neighbor.  How is it loving our neighbor to keep a system in place that demands the last bit of money from a person condemning them to death?  And how is it loving God?  

Questions for Reflection

  • What are the systems that exist today that demand every last drop, penny, ounce of strength, etc.?
  • How do we participate in these systems?  Often we don’t even realize we are participating.  Often we don’t have much choice either.  
  • In what ways do we prop up these systems?  And in what ways are we like the widow who has no choice?  
  • What are we called to do in response?   What is Good News in these situations?  

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