Summary: Jesus summarizes the law in the Great Commandment, the scribes seek honor, and a poor widow gives all.
Mark 12:28-44 “Total Commitment
It doesn’t take long, while reading the gospel of Mark, to realize that the kingdom of God is a very different from the nations and societies of the world. When reflecting on the kingdom of God and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I frequently imagine myself as an Alice who falls through a rabbit hole and ends up in a wonderland. Things get curiouser and curiouser.
We find that we are both subjects of God’s kingdom and citizens of the nation in which we live. Our temptation is to bring our world perspective and lifestyle into God’s kingdom. Our challenge is to repent and believe and to bring the perspective and lifestyle of God’s kingdom into our world.
Role models are an important part of our lives. Our role models demonstrate the characteristics and virtues that we deem important. The role models of this world might display success, wealth, fame, popularity, beauty or handsomeness. There are times when they might display kindness, tenacity or resilience. Most of the time, though, our role models of this world clash with the role models of God’s kingdom. One example of this can be seen in Jesus confrontation with a group of Jewish religious leaders called scribes.
The scribes were the literate class of Jewish society. They could read and write, which were skills few people had at the time that Jesus walked on earth. What they read the most was the Hebrew scripture. They became authorities on what was written. Their scriptural knowledge and literacy gave them power. Scribes expected to be honored and admired by others. Jesus, however, condemns them. Jesus accuses them of living lives that are a sham. They recite long prayers while at the same time devouring the homes and livelihoods of widows.
On the other hand, Jesus lifts of the poor widow as a person to emulate. Widows were usually ignored and never admired. Many people considered them a burden on society. Yet, Jesus points to the widow’s generosity and faith as qualities that necessary in his followers—residents of God’s kingdom.
PEOPLE OF WORTH
In his discussion with the curious scribe, Jesus states that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Jesus’ words were not ground breaking or earth shattering. Jesus was giving a direct quote from the book of Deuteronomy. It is also a theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. What is notably different is Jesus’ attachment to the great commandment of the second, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Religiosity by itself is not the manner by which to love God. Jesus elevates the love of our neighbor to the same level as loving God. In fact, to love God is to love our neighbor.
All people are worthy of God love and of our love. Unlike the world in which we live, no one is considered worthless in God’s kingdom.
• Though angry at the scribes and their actions, Jesus still grieves over their stiff necks and hard hearts.
• Not all scribes are alike. There is a curious scribe that asks Jesus a serious question about life as a child of God.
• The widow, who represents all the forgotten and neglected people, is a person of worth. Jesus sees her though others may be blind to her presence.
Recent calls to mark, separate and exclude people who are members of various groups do not reflect the characteristics of God’s kingdom. We may debate their efficacy for us a nation, but as people who live in God’s kingdom we cannot agree with them or follow them. They are in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. In God’s kingdom all people have worth.
Followers of Jesus have frequently discussed and argued about the attributes of faith. What does faith look like? Unfortunately, it has often been an attempt to determine who is in and who is out. For some the measuring stick is church participation and worship attendance. Others favor a set of lifestyle limitations. Christians don’t swear, smoke, drink, have sex, dance or play cards. (Thankfully chocolate has never been on the forbidden list.)
The Scribes and other religious leaders thought that the measure of a person’s faith was in their personal devotional practices e.g. prayer, fasting and giving a tithe. Though Jesus was certainly a pious Jew, he criticized such beliefs and taught that faith was so much more.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves is another demonstration of faith. This concept is supported by Jesus by both his words and his actions. The gospels are resplendent with examples of Jesus caring for others, healing them, freeing them from the forces of evil, and providing for them.
Jesus commends the widow and set her as an example of faith. His comments are not based on the level of her giving, but on her total dependence on God. The widow gave everything and trusted that God would provide for her just as God has done previously in her life. It isn’t necessarily that we need to live hand-to-mouth, but rather that we have that reliance on God’s love, mercy and grace.