Mark 13:2

“Do you see these great buildings?” asked Jesus. “Not a single stone will be left here on another, which will not be thrown down.”

put on
demythologizing glasses
to correct
grandiose astigmatism
so enthralled
illusion of control

no one thing
built on another
but falls together
black holed
all disconnected and
together again

rock by rock
solidity illusion
season by season
process illusion
image by image
illusion illusion

in this
in all
what comes
goes around
in all
in nothing

This dramatic projection of the result of the arc of oppression and resistance allows us opportunity to reflect back to the conspicuous privilege of the scribes (including the priests and Herodians) as ghosts haunting a demolished temple. We can also appreciate that not even loyal givers of all they have will protect the memorials of all they hold dear.

These stones that have been built up will be broken down. So it has ever been. What erosion doesn’t get, repurposing will. Their purpose will be stolen away.

One way to try to get our head around what seems to be a natural effect of time is to look for another framework. Sabin156returns to 2 Samuel 7 and the transition from Ark to Temple:

When God finally gives in and promises that David’s son, whose house God will establish, will “build a house for my name,” there is still the overriding implication that God remains in charge: God is agreeing to a structure that will honor his name but not to one that restricts his freedom. The biblical writer thus leaves open the door to the prophetic metaphor that God abandons the Temple when it no longer honors him.

In keeping with the tradition of the prophets and the lack of knowing what tone of voice is being used here, we might listen to this response with a sense of sadness rather than anger.

It could be argued that Chapter 12 should be extended to this point as a finale to the result of religious leaders more enraptured by their own position than the honoring of G*D in their Neghb*r. This is an issue not only for Jesus but for Mark’s time when the Temple actually was broken apart. How are they to understand this loss?

A Return

Hopefully the pause just taken was fruitful enough.

One outcome was the development of a draft of a paraphrase of Mark. I’m willing to send a PDF of this draft to anyone who is willing to give some feedback on it. As in any draft I have already found both errors and things I would now phrase differently. Additional eyes would catch more such as well as react to the format.

If this might have your name on it, write to me at

Mark 13:1

As Jesus was walking out of the Temple Courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look what fine stones and buildings these are!”

everything you’re doing

around at this present glory

for an eschatological hosanna

your weary ethical judgment

for some distant white knight

you are already at your goal

It is difficult to imagine a larger leap to irrelevancy than this shift from honoring an unnamed widow, as poor as a widow might be, to stunned awe by an organized pile of stones, no matter how large and beautifully arranged.

It is a particularly insensitive disciple who will turn their back on one pointed out as worth further attending to for either a religious idol indicted for treating its poor with a calloused disregard for the wounds it caused or a model of honorable participation in a system of sacrifice they have bought into.

By this time Readers have found some of their footing and know that the title “Teacher” is going to lead to a teaching moment, a catechetical opportunity. This means it is time for a pre-test.

Question 1: What do you expect is a next scene? Indicate what you believe will be the outcome of a widow having given her all. Is it a quick move toward death? Will she run into a prosperity preacher and find an unimaginable fortune as a result of her contribution?

Question 2: Which disciple is most likely to provide this distractive question or is this a reminder that each of them is capable of missing the point? Might it be Peter with stars in his eyes again? How about James and John still fixated on prestigious positions within this glorious edifice? Are we suspicious of a former tax collector who can assess a building’s worth? Might it be a practice run by Judas, at sowing chaos, causing Jesus to pause on his travels? Could it be the Reader?

Questions 3: Who knew a next question-trap would come via a disciple after running a gauntlet of Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees? Who’s left…the Chief Priests, State Officials, Crowd, the Possessed, one’s S*lf?

A Pause

Thank you for reading here.

I am taking 11 days off from this part of my Mark project. I have been offered an opportunity to present a narrative approach to reading the Bible, using Mark as a focal point. To prepare for this I need to finish a draft of a companion piece—a paraphrase of Mark based on my last reading of Mark. This time will also coincide with participation in a multi-day, denominational annual meeting.

As every reading also entails a concurrent re-writing of the material read, if only in one’s head, this paraphrase is an intriguing task. I will be using a variant of sense-lines (phrase lines) instead of a prose format. A larger explanation of sense-lines can be found in this out-of-print book (use your library) by James A. Kleist—The Memoirs of St. Peter or The Gospel According to St. Mark, Translated into English Sense-Lines.

I would appreciate your thought/prayers/comments/suggestions about this paraphrase over the next week plus, as well as general preparation work for a 6-session, participative exploration of Mark.

The current plan is return with verse-by-verse comments on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. With some luck these comments on Mark will conclude before the end of this calendar year.

The initial blurb about this adult group:

READING AND BEING READ BY MARK’S EXCELLENT, VERY GOOD NEWS will use the Gospel of Mark to teach you how to read the Bible narratively–that is, how to place yourself into the stories of Jesus to experience them in a whole new way. 6 sessions. Meets Mondays at 6:00p, beginning June 26, downstairs in the Youth Room at Onalaska United Methodist Church.

Mark 12:44

for everyone else put in something from what he had to spare, while she, in her need, put in all she had – everything that she had to live on.”

assurance as disequilibrium
turns us upside down
as stomachs turn inside out
hearing they’ve backed the wrong horse

we so desire to be assured
our present perks will extend
and precede us into every future
we’ll fudge every transaction

I assure you every assurance
relied upon until now
will suffer and die on their way
to a larger appreciation of smaller

Bratcher395 reports this verse has been translated for the Chontal of Tabasco to include these phrases:

…they gave money which they didn’t need.

…all she had; this was her food.

Some, like Myers165, see this as a critique:

Ever class-conscious, Mark emphasizes the contrast between the large contributions placed in the till by the rich and the meager sums by the poor. Infuriated by a widow who has been made destitute by her tithing obligation, Jesus summons his disciples for another solemn teaching.
…The Temple, like the scribal class, no longer protects the poor, but crushes them. His attack on the political economy of the Temple and its stewards complete, Jesus exits the Temple ground for the last time in disgust.

This perspective is consistent with the description of Jesus as both compassionate and angry regarding those he encountered as a healer, but might better be read as an assured avowal of the commitment that will be required for Jesus as he proceeds toward suffering and death, the commitment that will be required for the disciples after they experience a Jesus risen from suffering and death, and the commitment that will be required for a Reader to have been read by Mark and proceed to live this story into their own life.

Sabin1102, remembers Jeremiah “equating oppression of widows with idolatry” and Malachi placing the oppression of widows alongside “adultery and false oaths”:

…to the prophets, true worship is never a matter of prayer alone but always includes the practical matter of how one uses money. The contrast between the greedy scribes and the generous widow is thus, first of all, a contrast in true worship.

Mark 12:43

Then, calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others who were putting money into the chests;

the measurement of more
loses precisement
as justifications for more
increase exponentially

one small gift is as nothing
among all gifts
the clink of coins goes unheard
within hush money

all sense of proportionality
flies away
when part becomes most
without jubilation

The disciples were called to attend to what was under their nose, but not being noticed. This is still a key role of any teacher.

By now the Reader is catching on to the “Assurance” Jesus gives as part of his teaching. This “Amen” or “Truly, I say” comes into our distracted thinking that gets caught up with measuring the surface of life (the sheer quantity of money over its representation of our decisions about life’s meaning).

It is within a sense of assurance that we are able to remember in every time of life the importance of the Two Commandments to love life partnered with G*D with our whole being and that love is intimately connected with our Neighb*rs.

To give all, down to our last two coins thinned by our treasuring them, rubbing them together as we decide where to invest them, is a giving of all. This external representation of our life’s continuation in whatever economic system our community participates in prepares us to also invest our treasure of breath and blood.

Whatever level of property we have, there is never an ease with which we give it. A rich man has previously lost his appetite for eternity when it meant losing a perk within the present. This poor woman stands with the woman who’s blood had flowed away for 12 years—the present circumstances involve risk that is easier seen and entered when choices have narrowed to one: change or not.

A Reader can see a widow giving two little coins or her whole livelihood. This is a meaningful difference in participation in the flow of life. It is to appreciate the connection of Love and Justice and find a Mercy connection between them. To know there is a choice here alerts that Reader to look for similar choices in other arenas of life. Be assured, this scene will reappear in Mark and the Reader’s own life.

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.