Summary: What can we offer to God
I’m not allowed to eat at Mc Donald’s, except on very special occasions, once a year. When you go into McDonald’s you usually find that those who serve behind the counter are spotty kids who can only just bring themselves to mumble words asking you what you want. But they always manage to ask if you want to ‘go large’. For a few extra pence you can get a whole lot more junk food that you don’t really need.
And have you noticed that people will by an extra large Big Mac, extra large fries and then their conscience is pricked and they ask for a diet coke.
We are a society that wants more for less. Who can resist the buy one get one free bargains in Tesco. We all like getting things for nothing. Wealth, getting things impresses us as human beings.
You see it in those magazines like Hello and OK, and others when they are filled with opulent houses of the rich and famous, over the top wedding ceremonies, articles about lifestyles of celebrities. Wealth impresses us and some people like to flaunt it for all to see.
And so we come to the gospel reading for today about the contrast between the teachers of the law and the widow. Mark sets the scene very sparingly. He gives little in the way of background information.
Leading up to the passage set for today we have the record of Jesus explaining what the greatest commandment is. He answers in response to a question from one of the teachers of the law and Jesus says that the greatest commandment is ‘love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself.’
Immediately prior to the passage Jesus quotes Psalm 110 in a discussion about him being the Christ. The teachers saw Christ as the son of David and, as such, he should be able to do what David did and rid the Jews of oppression. He then goes on to criticise the teachers of the law and makes a series of charges against them and then contrasts their behaviour with that of the widow. And I want to reflect on that contrast tonight.
The actions of the teachers of the law
Jesus talks about the practices of the teachers of the law. These were the professional interpreters of the religious laws. They were responsible for copying, editing and studying the sacred texts and explaining them to the people. They were learned men, some of the few in society who could read and write. Having these skills gave them power over others.
Over time their skills had given them an elevated status in society. And it that status, that position that Jesus talks about here. He warns the crowds against these teachers who would have been respected and esteemed by most people, criticising them for making a show of their faith.
Jesus calls them insincere, he calls their intentions into question, he accuses them of unethical practices.
Jesus says that they like to walk around in long flowing robes. In the east a long robe which swept along the ground as you walked was a sign of a high status in society. It was the kind of robe in which you couldn’t hurry or work. It was a sign of leisure.
It may even have been that these men wore outsize tassles on the edge of their robes (these reminded them that they were the people of God) to give them special prominence. They liked to dress in a way that drew attention to themselves and to the honour that they enjoyed. Jesus criticises their flamboyance and sense of self importance.
They liked greetings in the market place, they love to be greeted with and respect and the been being greeted like that which just added to their sense of self importance. You can imagine people greeting these people with great flowery gestures like people react today, some people any way, when they see their favourite celebrity.
These teachers liked their front seats in the synagogue. In the synagogue, in front of the ark where the sacred texts were kept, and facing the rest of the congregation was a bench where the top people sat. No-one sitting there could be possibly be missed as they were in full view of the admiring congregation.
It still happens in some churches today where the elders sit on chairs at the front facing the congregation. And I remember when I was a local preacher, taking services in a village chapel where at the back, on a slope were pews, at the front where those hard wooden benches with backs that could be swung either way. The pews were for the posh people and the benches were for those who couldn’t afford to pay for a pew.