Mark 12:42

but one poor widow came and put in two small coins, worth very little.

little children and old women
lead on a way

two half-pennies or even four
are foundational

both a way and a foundation
can be over-shadowed

religious leaders and rich men
set their limits

it is important to define real money
as power over

otherwise excess won’t be seen
going in circles

This verse has two words related to money, one speaks of the copper lepton (Greek) and its equivalent kodrantēs (Latin) for those not familiar with the Greek. Waetjen13 notes the Latin indicates this and other Latinisms, “reflect a context of Roman-occupied territory and not the sociocultural milieu of Rome.” This, in turn, assists in understanding the location of the audience Mark was communicating with.

Of more import is the challenge set between rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged. On one side money equates to speech and on the other the little they have doesn’t add up to being able to slide one word into any decision-making. When one can’t even begin to get their two-cents in, they become a nobody that can be slapped around, even killed, of absolutely no consequence.

This verse works in conjunction with its set-up to have this be a final word before tracking down the destruction of both the Temple and Jesus. Just two verses earlier (12:40) we heard about cheating widows out of their homes—placing them in the position to not have two of the least of coins to rub together.

We are also reminded of an earlier saying (4:25) that speaks of karma for those who don’t have—they will find that little taken away.

The judgment is that those scribes who act to call Corban (7:11) and take advantage of laws regarding widow’s property for their own benefit have demonstrated that they are impoverished in their spirit. And we remember the kicker that holds this together as a theme in Mark—“What benefit is there to gain worldly riches and lose a deeper life in a beloved community?” (8:36).

All of this leads us to remember changed hearts and lives (1:15).

Mark 12:41

Then Jesus sat down opposite the chests for the Temple offerings, and watched how the people put money into them. Many rich people were putting in large sums;

to look and see is rare
we see what we expect
a collection box
is intended to be full
so the rich are preferred
to take up space
with a half-penny
is market heresy

generosity is rare
bottom lines keep creeping up
demanding to be filled
graduated pledge gifts
reflect give more get more
until finally
your name can be
a temple topper

Jesus sits opposite [or in an “antagonistic stance”, Myers165] where the collections for the temple were accepted in thirteen trumpet-shaped vessels around the Temple’s Court of Women. This is where people came to publicly give their financial support of the Temple. This gives rise to an image of ravenous open mouths being stuffed with money, not unlike a goose stuffed to produce pâté.

The observation Jesus does is not unlike the work of an advance scout collecting reconnaissance information. They collect and sift through details to get a more accurate picture of the situation in order to address it most efficiently.

As we read about the rich people giving, we might wonder if one of the people Jesus saw feeding the Collection Boxes was a certain man seeking a meaningful life but unable to do so if it meant selling his property and giving directly to the poor.

This may also trigger remembrance of Peter’s statement about his, and all the disciples, leaving everything to follow Jesus only to be told about the first and last not being secure locations.

It would be appropriate to hear Jesus’ mind churning with pictures of scribes in long robes dancing in his head from his last encounter with them and seeing rich robes dancing around the Collection Boxes and coming up with a connection between “long prayers” and “public generosity/philanthropy”.

This bumps up against what Mann493 sees as the arc of Jesus’ actions as “passionately concerned about the righteousness of God and impatient with anything, be it institution or people, which serves to obscure it.” Observing the world through this lens does lead to distinctions that indict the current situation. How, then, does this prepare us to evaluate what is hidden before our very eyes?

Mark 12:40

They are the men who rob widows of their homes, and make a pretense of saying long prayers. Their sentence will be all the heavier.”

the longer the prayer
the more cheating

a twenty dollar prayer
returns fifty in interest

within an extensive prayer
are a multitude of wiggle words

as long as I have a prayer
I can put off being caught

after all it the best prayer
who will be most honored

often the loudest prayer
has the quietest conscience

It is difficult to keep the little perks of life in their place. They are greedy and in their desire for more move from ordinary status indicators to mendacious activity or habitual dishonesty.

Perks are also slippery in that they can provide the cover of deniability that it is religion causing the problem, but the state. One of the key insights here is that of Marx in labeling religion as part of an opiod crisis, deadening selves to the pains of everyday life. Waetjen8 uncovers some of this in his assessment:

“…by compromising with the ruling class so that the norms of Levitical purity might govern the life of the Jewish people, they stabilized and perpetuated the political status quo with all of its injustices and inequalities.”

Myers165 sharpen the details of this general statement:

Scribal affluence is attributed to “devouring widows’ houses under the pretext of long prayers”. This probably refers to the practice of legal trusteeship, in which the estates of deceased men were given to scribes to administer because the widow was deemed unfit to run such affairs! In compensation the trustee received a percentage, and embezzlement and abuse were not uncommon. As in the earlier dispute over korban (7:9ff) and the Temple action, Jesus criticizes “piety” as a mask for “robbery.”

Wright175 brings this into current times:

“The world has not changed, it seems. Not only lawyers, but also politicians and other leaders in the civic world, are again and again discovered to be putting on a show to gain favour while underneath they are after money.”

Recognition of this pattern calls for calling bulbus stercum (BS).

Mark 12:39

and to have the best seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at dinner.

ain’t it the pits
when honor
is a one-way street
mine to give
yours to have

every world built on honor
requires inequality
nicely papered over
to disguise
some are more equal

all of this
best takes place
in the marketplace
the natural habitat
of nouveau privilege

There is high prestige in being able to sit in front of the Ark, facing the people. This signals your ability to mediate the very word of G*D into mere human language for the benefit of those waiting for you to do so.

There is high prestige in being able to recline on the couch next to the host. This signals your worth by putting you in a top spot to receive special food and attention from the servers. It will be noticed by those farther away.

These four markers of status or honor—clothing, salutation, location, and location—become, for some, the measure of a meaningful life.

This chapter has been about Jesus’ Jewish traditions. They are asked from the inside, not a put-down from the outside even though they have been used by others in that fashion.

After opening with a parable about the control of creation (and Neighb*r), Sabin2113 locates four points of challenge.

The first question puts forward the relationship between the Temple and worldly power. Jesus’ response suggests that worldly power does not belong in the Temple. It also suggests that human beings, as bearers of God’s image, belong wholly to God. The second question puts forward the relationship between God and death. Jesus’ response indicates that God is concerned with the life, not death. God the Creator has the power to go on creating. The third question puts forward the relationship between love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus and the scribe agree that they are inextricably woven together. Love of neighbor (as the Psalms and Prophets have said) is the truest way of loving God. The last question takes the form of a riddle that Jesus himself asks about the meaning of God’s “messiah.” The riddle raises questions about the conventional understandings of the term and so prepares for an unconventional one.

Conventions in practice at the everyday level of dress, interaction, religious and social seating, require regular review.

Mark 12:38

In the course of his teaching, Jesus said, “See that you are on your guard against the teachers of the Law, who delight to walk about in long robes, and to be greeted in the streets with respect,

watch out     danger
the desire of James and John
is alive and well and living
in every heart and hearth

there is no escape
from feather and bead
tailored suit and long tie
cat call and cat fight

wherever we walk
garbage collector or banker
prostitute or john
rank is always in play

among gods or angels
come the fiercest fights
wreaking world
scorning mortals

[Note: the potential book version of this blog uses the Contemporary English Bible (CEB) as its standard translation of Mark. This blog uses the copyright free Open English Bible. This doesn’t usually affect too much, but it does in this verse as you will see in ¶¶1-2 below.]

It needs to be noted that the warning Jesus is giving is not a blanket statement applied to all those involved in working on boundary question regarding traditions and their limits. With the long history of anti-Semitism in Christianity there needs to be an alertness to how little it takes to return to that heresy.

There is not a good way to fix the CEB verse at the top of this page other than restructuring it by extending what is quoted. The NRSV is to be preferred here: “As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, …’”

Remember the scribe who came to Jesus asking about a ranking of commandments. They were a boundary setter for legal interpretations of the tradition. This scribe was able to hear both parts of the second commanded listed, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The legalists mentioned here, only take the last phrase to heart—“love yourself”.

Remember, also, James and John who came asking for places of honor. A presumption of privilege to self-aggrandize seems to continually raise its head. There are reports that in that day when two people met, the one with lesser status was to address the other first and perhaps bow. Today the particulars vary, but status remains of key importance for some. In my denomination the use of a title rather than a name marks the recognition of status—one is to say “Bishop” and refrain from using the person’s given name.

Privilege and the use of wealth have been important parts of the critique Baptizer John and Jesus have brought and continue to the end of this chapter (not that they end there as they continue in the world of every Reader and need to be identified anew in each generation).

Mark 12:37

David himself calls him ‘lord,’ how comes it, then, that he is to be his son?”
The mass of the people listened to Jesus with delight.

how delightful
watching bigwigs squirm

new synonyms muddy old waters
old verities collide into new elements

that beyond our ken
resides within our loins

previous assumptions
break open when talked through

watching systems change
how unsettling

Jesus has found a fault line in the scriptures that were currently in use about the Messiah. What had been a tool to keep the Messiah just out of reach, has been flipped and the crowd goes wild—a rookie has bested the veterans. The heartbreak of defeat has turned into the release of victory.

Of course one set-up battle is not a proven way to win a war.

To catch a better glimpse of what was at stake in the gotcha sermon illustration, listen to Myers164,

In the Temple again, Jesus finally addresses the question of Davidic Messianism directly. Here “sonship” has to do not with genealogy, but with political ideology. The scribes assumed that the Messiah would act to restore the Davidic monarchy, and that this would further aggrandize their own position. But citing Psalm 110, Jesus reverses the equation: Even David is subordinate to the sovereignty of God. Jesus has no interest in rehabilitating the old dreams of Davidic empire, for it is the politics of domination that is the problem.

Wright174, keeps it a bit more within the usual lines of expectation but still extends the question of the vehicle through which G*D’s presence will have effect in the world,

What we find…is a challenge to the idea that the Messiah will be simply a king from David’s line. He will be David’s Lord as well as David’s son.

Humans like to set up rules about how things will be set right again, where both justice and mercy are experienced as parallel concepts. One tradition has been about bloodlines and so Jesus must be born in David’s royal city and be a Davidic descendant through his absent father, Joseph. This scene questions a Reader’s requirements for healing individuals and whole systems—dominion or partnership?

Mark 12:36

David said himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – ‘The Lord said to my lord: Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.’

all titles of power
devolve to none
lords are lords
lording it over kings
who are never queens
who are never jacks
until kings are lords
lording it over fiefdoms
where all must agree
divine rights
are the cat’s pajamas
made of finest threads
as if they were nothing
in the end
the clothes of all lords
hide basic commonness

Behind every literalist is someone seeking to establish order on the universe that is based on their experience over against the experience of anyone else. The impetus for order has some helpful qualities to get us through life—though good habits are harder to break as we can avoid facing their consequences. Bad habits don’t afford that luxury.

Being able to connect dots from David to Messiah soothes a slower transition in the midst of change—this, at least, is still something we can rely on.

Christian Zionists who require a Jewish return to Jerusalem face the same difficulty as the scribal straw-man Jesus is facing here—folk wisdom raised from “common sense” to “authorized truth”. In this case, the attribution of all the Psalms to David is getting us into this riddle that will have to face competing scriptures, rather than have one verse rule all others.

The starting point of requiring a Davidic heritage to any subsequent leader is pointed toward in the categorization of the Psalm 110 as a royal psalm. A footnote in the CEB Study Bible996OT says this Psalm reflects “…the reality of life in Babylon and the beginnings of life after the return to Jerusalem, may indicate post-exilic hope for restoring the Davidic monarchy.”

The privilege of reestablishing a ruling power will gather its support wherever it can. It is then less of a mystery about how this verse becomes the most quoted Hebrew Scripture in Church Scripture referring to Jesus—as monarch, duly instituted by G*D and set to Christianize the whole world, at a minimum, through an apocalyptic end time of sorting sheep from goats, good seed from bad weed.

The issue of requiring this ambiguous “Lord” who takes precedence over King David is prelude to the way the early church changes Jesus from Mark’s preferred language up to this point—the “son of adam”, a “human one”—into “The Only Son of G*D”.

Mark 12:35

While Jesus was teaching in the Temple Courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the Law say that the Christ is to be David’s son?

from time immemorial
sound good phrases
doubling as institutional justification
embed themselves as given
in teaching a next generation

time marches on
carrying unsupported baggage
capitalized truth capitalized
down dim corridors
past every question

flat-earthed earth centrism
has much observational data
grounding past wondering
until one stray data point
unravels the whole scheme

Here begins another riddle in the same form as Baptizer John’s formulation that someone coming after him comes before him.

This question for the scribes of Jesus day is also one for the fundamentalist or literalist of any generation. The starting place of privileging one verse above all others to prove a point.

Once a premise has been laid down, we will do all manner of mental gymnastics to justify how it is the controlling verse for all else.

Our desire to be right often comes at the expense of the sweet mysteries of life. Bratcher388 identifies a problem with this verse comes when a physical link is required between David and Messiah (staying with the Hebrew terminology rather than the Greek, Christ, helps clarify the issue). That link is weak in Mark as he doesn’t establish this marker as clearly as Matthew’s birth story connecting Jesus’ birth place with David’s—Bethlehem.

Orthodoxy asks the translator to stick with a literal translation that would raise any question about the necessity of a Davidic ancestry for Messiah, as though something were impossible for G*D or to put G*D in the role of Herod, that once a pronouncement is made it can never be un-announced. Thus Bratcher’s problem:

… the form would seem to deny the fact that Jesus was the offspring of David. To avoid this implication, which may be much stronger in some languages than in the Greek or English, one may be obliged to insert “merely” or “just”, e.g. “the Christ is just the son of David”, implying inferiority of status.

Is “son of David” a physical descendent or anyone, for any reason who can establishes a claim of Messiahship?

Mark 12:34

Seeing that he had answered with discernment, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

how far is not far

in linear terms
inches and kilometers
are measures of hope
for we can go halfway
and halfway again
until we are practically here

for discerning wisdom
near only works in horseshoes
to be close to wisdom
is indeed faint praise
until enlightenment dawns
monkey-minds jump their hoops

to confuse these
turns encouragement
strangely dull
closing ears
warning off
dilettante pretenders

To be not far from a participation in what it means to be in the presence of G*D raises a question about the boundaries of a presence of G*D.

One import is that there is a distinction to be made between hearing, seeing, understanding, and doing. We return to how it is that Isaiah’s vision and Jesus’ parables can be seen and heard, and even memorized, but that until they are implemented there is no real comprehension.

It is important, then, to find ways of assisting people to act as though loving Neighb*rs is not distinguishable from loving G*D. Before the joy available here can be experienced, it needs to be lived. This is why removing discriminatory language from the institutions we belong to is important. The removal doesn’t get rid of prejudice, but it allows people to practice the mutuality and partnership necessary to have prejudice diminish to the point of finally no longer poking itself into all interactions.

Hearing this whole scene is very much like the time Jesus equated rich people with camels. The disciples were shocked—“Who then can be saved?”

“If this scribe, who agrees with Jesus, still isn’t in, the best we can do will always fall short.” Only silence or a question can deal with this realization. The disciples asked; the crowd remained silent.

The Reader may also need some quiet, wilderness, time to wrestle further with the interaction between G*D and Neighb*r before beginning a new practice based on this partnership.

Mark 12:33

and to love him with all one’s heart, and with all one’s understanding, and with all one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself is far beyond all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

to love a neighbor
is not so easy
a sacrifice of self
torched privilege

to love a neighbor
is to not burn
a casserole
intended for sharing

to love a neighbor
is to partner for good
common good
for a seventh generation

to love a neighbor
is incomplete
it takes a lifetime
and more to love one

to love a neighbor
sees their ground of being
and seeds it generously
and in turn receives their seed

to love a neighbor
is more particular
than honoring a G*D
cloned from my heart

This is not to say that religious rituals are of no import, but that they are secondary to lived mercy as an evidence of our love of G*D and Neighb*r.

This synopsis leads to a look at this episode from the perspective of the participants recorded in The Gospel of Solentiname527–533. Sunday by Sunday people in Lake Nicaragua met to reflect on the Gospel reading for the day.

Laureano: Because God is humanity. They are equal. (Some of us believe, then, that they are the same thing. Or that it’s God, that humanity is God.)

Ernesto: No, I believe that what we should say is that God is love among people. That God does exist, but that God doesn’t exist in another way, separated from love among people, as God is usually imagined. God exists, but God exists among us only in that form: as mutual love.

Felipe: I think that’s why Christ says that to that teacher of the law, because they used to be confused and thought that God was a God separated from the people. That you could commit injustices and then light a bunch of candles to God. At that time they thought God as a personage separated from people.

Elvis: Where there’s a community and everybody’s united and lives in community, that’s the real God, right? …. If that’s clear, everything’s clear.