Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Widows


Today’s Gospel reading set for Morning Prayer is Mark 12:35-44.

I am struck by the repetition in verses 41-44. In the English (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised) it reads putting/put in/put in/put in/put in; but this is a poor translation of the Greek, which is to cast or throw. The action described is of money being cast or thrown into a large receptacle.

And, in the Greek, it serves the purpose of recalling to mind other such casting or throwing.

The widow is often held up as a model for discipleship, an example of sacrificial giving. But it seems to me that such a reading requires us to ignore the context. First, this account is set at a point where there is a heightened and sustained campaign against Jesus by the religious establishment; one that unites factions previously antagonistic towards one another. Second, Jesus is criticising the scribes, those who interpreted torah, or instruction for living, to the people. He has just implicitly called the scribes enemies, and explicitly told the people to beware of them, for they devour widows’ houses.

Against this backdrop, Jesus turns his attention to the treasury, money given for the operational costs of God’s house and as the communal response to meeting the needs of the poor. The crowd, including many rich people and a poor widow cast/throw money into the treasury.

In Mark 9:42, Jesus had said to his disciples that if any of them put a stumbling block before one of these little ones [that is, those with least influence or resource] who believe in him, it would be better for those who did so if a great millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.

And in Mark 11:22-24, Jesus tells his disciples that if they say to the mountain, on which the temple was built, be taken up and thrown into the sea, and do not doubt in their heart but believe that it will come to pass, it will be done for them.

Here is a widow, paying her respects to God. But the god in question is a monster, presented to her by scribes; not the King of the Universe who repeatedly insists that the community care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien in their midst. The upkeep of God’s house does not require the devouring of widows’ houses. This woman has thrown her livelihood, her life, into the sea; it would be better if the scribes were thrown in.

Moreover, the experience of encountering God on this mountain, in this house, is one that is meant to be transferable; one we call to mind, bring into the present moment, when the chaos of life rises against us like the restless sea. And yet this very mountain has been overwhelmed by a flood.

Jesus clearly has compassion for this widow, but his primary purpose is not to praise her, but, rather, to declare the greater condemnation on the scribes.

This should give us pause for thought where we, as the Church, ask and ask more and more from our congregations.

It should also give us pause for thought as a society, where the rich give out of their abundance, and with great virtue-signalling; while the most vulnerable lose even the little they have to live on.

Metaphorically, Jesus throws the scribes, and the rich, into the sea, exposing their hypocrisy. And for it, he will lose his life.

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