Beware of the Scribes
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Here we find the Lord Christ teaching on the Tuesday prior to his Crucifixion. On these last days of public ministry during Holy Week the Lord Christ remains focused on the doctrines and practices of the Religious Professionals of his time. The Lord Christ knows that with His death this whole Temple system, which the Religious Professional serves is coming to an end.
And so the Lord Christ directs our attention to the failure of the Temple system.
1.) Religious Professional have polluted it.
2.) In the next chapter the Lord Christ will note, that this whole Temple system is all going to violently end. In its place the Lord Christ is to be the new Temple to whom all types of men and women will come and will find peace with God.
So, I submit to you what is going on here in Mark 12:38-44 is a series of contrasts.
The contrast in Mark 12 then is not only the contrast between the wicked Religious Professionals and the faithful widow but more importantly the contrast is between the corrupted Old Temple system that injures God’s most vulnerable people as against the Faithful Lord Christ, as the New Temple, who will give is all for God’s people.
The contrast here is a religious system which has become a kind of an essential backdrop for a phony religious piety (Mark 12:38-39) as against the Lord Christ who emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, and who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The contrast is between wicked Religious professionals who love to grandstand at the expense of God’s people and the Lord Christ who is meek and lowly in heart.
The contrast is between those who would become rich at the expense of the poor with the Lord Christ who was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich.
The contrast is between a Widow who surrenders her all to a Temple system that has failed with the Son of God who as God’s new Temple will surrender His all that men might have peace with God.
Now having established that let’s look at the main players in Mark 12,
One of the purposes of this narrative is to expose the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. They pray to demonstrate their piety while at the same time they devour widow’s houses.
Of course you remember the Scribes. They were the Religious Professionals. They taught their corrupted version of the Law of God.
Of the Lord Christ,
1.) They complained that he ate with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30, 15:2).
2.) When Jesus said to the one sick of the palsy , “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee,” (Mark 2:6) the Scribes charged Him with blasphemy.
3.) When he cast out demons they said that He cast them out by “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils” (Mark 3:22).
4.) They would sit and watch Jesus to see if He would heal on the Sabbath day, that they might find an accusation against him (Luke 6:7).
5.) They also were among the Pharisees when they brought to him the woman caught in adultery,“tempting him, that they might have reason to accuse him” (John 8:3, 6).
6.) They were filled with indignation when Jesus performed any miracles (Luke 6:11).
They took counsel with the chief priests as to how they might destroy him (Mark 11:18),
7.) When they contrived to have Jesus brought before Herod , they stood and vehemently accused him (Luke 23:10).
So, we see a running conflict between the Lord Christ and the religious professionals. Oftentimes Mark records the scribes mistrusted the Lord Christ’s various activities (cf. 2:7, 16; 3:22; 7:1, 5; 11:18, 27-28), and in return, the Lord Christ and his disciples questioned the influence of scribal teaching (cf. 9:11; 12:35). At one point, the disciples, without Jesus’ around, argued with scribes over an ailing child (cf. 9:14). As his mission continued, Jesus recognized their antagonism, predicting that they would “reject” him (8:31) and, eventually, “condemn him to death” (10:33).
So, this withering public critique of Scribes, in 12:38-40, fits into the larger pattern of conflict that Mark portrayed.
In verses 38-40 Jesus specifically denounces the scribes. In Mark’s estimation they are self-important, arrogant, and self aggrandizing. This section of Mark’s gospel, since Jesus’ triumphal entry, has been dominated by controversy and antagonistic interaction between Jesus and various groups with leadership responsibilities in first-century Judaism. It is not surprising, then, that we find here a final nail in the coffin, a sweeping condemnation of the scribes.
We should pause here to note that throughout history religious professionals have often been a burden on God’s people. Whether you want to look at the OT record, or the NT record you find that religious professionals are often a group of people one wants to keep at arm’s length. You can find this truth throughout history. When you look at the Reformation, for example, one of the driving factors in the demand for Reformation was the corrupt and scurrilous religious professionals who likewise were preoccupied with building up their illegitimate wealth at the expense of the most vulnerable of God’s people. The indulgence system, which was the occasion for the Reformation, was just such an example. It is no less true today. The sheep, too often, are still being sheered by the Religious carny, con-man, and Religious Professional scheister.
While we esteem faithful shepherds we are reminded of a truth repeated throughout Scripture
Psalm 146:3 — “Put not your trust in rulers, in mortals in whom there is no help.”
There are about eighty direct references to widows in the Scriptures.
Repeatedly Scripture teaches that God is the kind of God who keeps a careful eye on the widow.
Per Deut 14, 16, Widows were to be especially cared for in the Hebrew community
Per James 1 one aspect of the essence of religion is to visit widows and orphans in distress
Per Acts 6 we see the Church was providing for Widows
Per I Timothy 5 we see that the church understood that it was responsible for God centered widows who had no one to do for them
He is profoundly concerned for her, together with all those who are vulnerable and so easily oppressed. God is righteous and protects widows.
Psalm 68 teaches that God is “a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows . . . in his holy habitation,” (Psalm 68:5).
We see this again in Isaiah 10, Jeremiah 22 and Ezekiel 22 where, in each case, God has noticed the oppression of the Widow by the powers that be and demands that it cease.
The Lord Christ reflects this character of God when he bends low to be the God who provides to the widow of Nain when he restores life to the son of the Widow of Nain.
Jesus reflects this character of God while on the Cross when he provide for his own widowed Mother.
Jesus reflects this character of God here when he denounces the Scribes (Religious Professionals) for enriching themselves at the expense of the least and most vulnerable.
Of course this reveals to us the Character of God. He is especially near to those of His people who are oppressed and vulnerable. He HATES it when the righteous poor in the covenant community are swindled or taken advantage of. He HATES those who, in His name, feather their own bed at the cost of His covenant community poor. The Lord Christ here says that those who act this way will have a greater condemnation.
1.) This reminds us then of the danger of being a unfaithful Religious Professional. It is true we might get ahead in this life by doing the equivalent of devouring Widows houses but the Lord Christ tells us here that a time is coming when those who have sewn the wind of ill gotten gain will reap the whirlwind of God’s remembrance.
2.) We are reminded again of our need to look out for “the least of these” among us. It remains true that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …”
III.) We close by considering some issues surrounding this giving of the Widow that may inform us of our own giving,
One of the clear ideas that comes through here is that while the Rich put in large sums that dwarfed the widows giving (vs. 41) the Widow put in all. Of course the call here isn’t that all people must deposit everything they have into the offering plate. However what is accentuated is that there is a difference between giving out of abundance and giving out of want. It’s not the size of the check but the size of the cost that is highlighted.
“The value of a gift is not the amount given, but the cost to the giver.” – J.R. Edwards (Pillar NTC)
God measures the gift by the sacrifice involved (cf. 2Sa 24:24). – A. Black (College Press NIVC)
I’m reminded of someone I once knew who would give nice presents and gifts for certain occasions. I later learned that this person was passing on work related promotional material. So, while the gifts were nice, they cost the person nothing.
I am reminded of the Scripture … “I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which has cost me nothing.”
R. A. Cole reminds us,
“It is well to remember that God measures giving, not by what we give, but by what we keep for ourselves;”
In all this we observe that it is possible that the generosity of the impoverished can be greater than the generosity of the wealthy.
All of this communicates again that even in our giving God looks at the heart. This can serve as encouragement to those who are frustrated by the fact that they have so little to give. God looks at the heart. He doesn’t count your gift by the number of zeros in your check. He counts your gift according to your heart, and your resources.
By this standard of Giving we see that God gave all in providing Himself, in the 2nd person of the Trinity to be the means by which we can have peace with God.
Christ is the greatest of all who have given all for while we were still enemies the Lord Christ gave His all that we might be reconciled to God through the death of His Son.
Christ emptied Himself and bore our griefs and and carried our sorrows. He is the archetype Widow who gives all of which the Widow here is but an echo.
If we are to have a giving disposition it must be imbued with gratitude that comes from the God who gave all and gives all. We do not give in order to get. We give out of gratitude because we have already been given all by the one who gave all in our stead.