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Mark 12:38-44 - Beware of the scribes who bring famine to the widows

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

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As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”


He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”


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This is the Gospel selection that will be read aloud by a priest on the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 27], Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will follow one of two pairings of Old Testament and Psalm readings, according the Track an individual church is on during Year B. The Track 1 pair will pull from Ruth, where it is written, “Naomi her mother-in-law said to Ruth, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.”’ Psalm 127 will then be sung, including this verse: “Unless Yahweh builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.” The Track 2 pair will offer a reading from First Kings, which says, “The word of Yahweh came to Elijah, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”’ Psalm 146 will follow, including the verse that sings, “Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger.” The Epistle will then follow one of those pairs, coming from Hebrews, where Paul wrote, “Nor was it [for Jesus] to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world.”


I wrote about this selection the last time it came up in the lectionary cycle (2018) and posted my interpretation on my website at that time. That commentary can be read by clicking on this link. I believe that observation is most appropriate for others to read now, as this Gospel reading selection is a strong reflection on the failures of all organizations that propose to worship any gods, most strongly all who profess to have belief in God (while being afraid to name Him Yahweh) and believe in His Son being Jesus. After all, it is the clothing and special privilege one’s beliefs give one, enabling them to cast judgment on everyone other than themselves. For that reason, I will not attempt to reinterpret these verses as I did in 2018. Instead, I will address this Gospel reading selection as if Jesus were sitting with me and others like me, having us all watch and be observant of the routine daily activities of churches proclaiming to be in his name today. Then, I will address how this reading is supporting the other readings for this Sunday.


I have written prior about the time I sat in a church lectionary class when this reading was discussed. When the class ended and the main church service was about to begin, the class leader – a high-ranking church volunteer – hurried off to get his reserved seat in the nave. I had to shout out to him, “What happened to the ‘all-in’ church?” He barely turned his head to tell me, “That did not work out too well.”


His flippant response paints a clear picture of what this Gospel reading selection says about today’s Church. That man identified as an Episcopalian; but the same reflection he cast is found in all denominations of Christianity. Just recently, while watching a Baptist minister’s sermon that is broadcast each Sunday morning live, via the Internet, he reminded his congregation of a visiting minister who would come soon. That visitor would speak instead of the minister, telling everyone about some mission work being done somewhere. The Baptist minister made a point of saying that future Sunday’s offering would be handed over to that visiting minister, as a gift from that Baptist church to that ministry. The preacher made a point of saying that donation was above and beyond the normal budgetary plans for that quite wealthy church. Because all denominations of Christianity have their own versions of grand churches, which come with grand monetary expectations from their congregations (tithes and gifts), the motto of those churches has to be seen as “You have to spend money to make money.” Money becomes their god of worship; and, that is the point Jesus was making in the lesson.


A wealthy relative of mine told me how his church separated from the main Episcopal Church of North America, because it elected a presiding bishop that was an openly confessed homosexual, a highest-ranking leader who believed the church should marry homosexuals. In that split, my relative's church congregation – who most all were in agreement to split – found their church building was owned by the Episcopal Church they were splitting from; and, the church would not condone a congregation rejecting the decrees of the presiding bishop. That meant his congregation had to rent space at some other church, where they could continue to gather together where services would be held. They had to do that until the time came that they could purchase land and build a new church that would be theirs.


My relative was so influential that he helped raise over thirteen million dollars for that building, which in a couple of years became a reality. Of course, the problem was that expensive new church building became the property of the new Episcopal Church that congregation joined, in order to use that organizations name on the sign out front. Thus, my wealthy relative, like that leader of the lectionary class, was a high-ranking volunteer for a church, whose greatest asset was his elbows rubbed the elbows of people with lots of money and similar ideas about religion. This means people like them are in the class that is described as scribes; and, Jesus said to beware of them.


The scribes must be seen as those so wealthy that they are not employed by a church. More importantly to them, they have great influence on the church itself, as to what the church believes. In this sense, the wealthy man who led the lectionary class [a lawyer by profession] had great influence in what ideas and ideals governed the church he influenced. Likewise, my wealthy relative played no official role in his church, as his world of expertise was financial; but he had great influence on how the church would be managed. Both would play a volunteer role in the committees that decided who their church’s priest would be; and, that priests had to match their religious beliefs, not vice versa. Thus, it would be a church organization that would supply the applicant priests for open positions, to be chosen based on the interview questions of the vestry. This should be seen as who Jesus was speaking about, as to who should be warned to watch. They would be the ones who hired the hands who would preach, making sure all applicants of ordination saw the meaning of Scripture that matched their needs to be absolved of Mammon worship, pretending to be worshipers of "the Lord."


A bishop of a diocese that I am well aware of was elected to fill that position, when I know for a fact he was worthless as a priest. He was chosen to be the priest of a parish because he supposedly had fundraising talents. The vestry that hired him needed a new church building built; and, their only need for a pastor of that flock was to lure in huge donors and get that building built. In that endeavor, the lowly priest eventually hired a church fundraising consulting group, who knew all the strongarm tactics of bleeding a congregation for money they were holding tightly onto, forcing them by guilt to sign pledges that would allow a bank to loan the money for church construction to begin. That priest, who the congregation would routinely whispered about, saying he orated the worst sermons they had ever heard, took credit for getting that new church built; and, he used that money success to be elected as the bishop, after the previous bishop got tired of being bishop and wanted to go play with his ‘retirement investments.’ After he became the new bishop, the COVID19 plague befell the world and he has since led his diocese to near default on everything they have gone in debt to possess. The promise of him renewing the vitality of the diocese has fallen into the reality of a church filled with hired hands that is running in panic from the threat of a virus, leaving the entire flock in danger of the wolves.


This is the warning Jesus spoke of in this Gospel reading. When he said, “[The scribes] like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation,” this speaks of every church that has bowed down before government mandates and forced restrictions on religious practices, because the priests and pastors who comply with the government's mandates. They see the government as their ticket to wealth, not Yahweh. They will weather any financial storm by playing on the guilts of old women with holdings of value. Even if nobody came to church and put two cents into the offering tray, the church organization would still be valuable … only in material terms, not spiritual values.


The key term that needs to rise to the top is “widow.” That word implies one who was married, but her husband has deceased. That implication of marriage needs to be then applies to the other characters in this scene that Jesus had his disciples watch. Jesus was a soul in human flesh that was married to Yahweh. His disciples were souls in human flesh engaged to be married to Yahweh, as His bridesmaids. The widow woman was a soul in human flesh that was married to Yahweh, through her birth as a Jew. In that sense, her flesh had been married to the Judaic religion; but because that religion rejected her as having any value, she became the widow of the Temple of Jerusalem. All of the ones who took loads of valuables to deposit into the Temple treasury, they were still married to the Temple. None of their souls were married to Yahweh. That is why the widow giving two cents, which reflected everything she possessed of value (money), is the ‘all in’ church that the leader of a church I attended said did not work out too well. The Temple in Jerusalem became an example of Mammon worship, where everyone that was only partially 'in' was sinful. The widow, in contrast, was making a statement that said, "Take this sin away from me, because I willing give all money to the sinners, to rid myself of it as something to worship."


In the story told in First Kings, when Yahweh told Elijah where to go and have his needs met by a widow, the place named Zarephath means “Smelter; Blast Furnace; and/or Workshop For Smelting And Refining Metals.” When Yahweh said that place “belongs to Sidon” the meaning of “Sidon” is “Fishery; Hunting Place.” This means the region was formerly of one of the Tribes of Israel [Asher], where the Israelites there were to hunt or fish for souls. Instead of spreading faith in Yahweh, the northern reaches of Asher were ceded to the Gentiles of that region [today Lebanon]. This says Elijah was sent to the remnant Israelites who suffered from famine over the land, because of bad rulers. The symbolism of Zarephath must be seen as the people laboring to turn ores mined from underground into the precious metals that produced the “large sums” that had “the crowds putting money” into the treasury. Those “large sums” were gold and silver refined by smelting places, which were turned into currencies in the Roman Empire. The widow woman only had two copper coins, which she gave willingly.


The lesson of Elijah being sent is the same lesson as Jesus being sent, as both saw the widows of a mega-church being ‘all in’ for a religion that at least says it believes in God, even though is does all its hunting and fishing for capital campaigns and 'special offering takes' for ministries that serve heathens, stepping all over the widows of Yahweh in those attempts to convince Yahweh to let them sit at the preferred seating around His table in Heaven [probably a table made of gold!].


The untold story of Ruth is why Naomi became a widow woman. Her husband Elimelech was the brother of Boaz; and Elimelech had sold everything he owned in Bethlehem because of a spiritual famine, which caused a time when the people were wayward and breaking the Covenant of marriage between their souls and Yahweh. Because Boaz remained [he did not buy the land sold by Elimelech], he must be seen as less willing to leave a place where sinners abound. In the story not read this Sunday, Boaz had to present his offering that would deny his inheritance, as a son of his father [who was still living], and pay the price to buy back the land that had been sold by Elimelech. In doing that, Boaz would be the redeemer relation that would restore Elimelech’s possessions, which would be those of Boaz through death. The untold story says the elders past were led to not release holdings of value; but the times had changed to those when a judge had restored faith to Israel, so the elders approved the redemption by Boaz.


This untold story needs to be seen in the Gospels that tell of Jesus, who was in essence the return of Moses and Elijah to the land that had turned away from its Covenant to Yahweh. While the marriage of Boaz with Ruth – symbolizing the marriage of a soul committed to Yahweh joining with a foreigner relation by marriage, making a union that bring forth a son of promise for the future – can be seen as Jesus joining with all the widows of Judea and Galilee, so they could be redeemed as in relationship with Yahweh. The lesson of Mark 12 is the land had fallen and was like Zarephath in Sidon, where all hunting and fishing was for silver and gold, not souls interested in marrying Yahweh. When the reading says, “Then Naomi took the child [Obed] and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse,” Jesus was the nurse of his disciples. His teachings were what made their souls grow to love Yahweh. That made Jesus and Naomi the antheses of scribes, whose inability to properly interpret Holy Scripture led to all the failures the people would bring upon the land.


As the Gospel reading to be read aloud on the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry for Yahweh should already be well underway, the lesson is to realize only being a believer for show, where the truth of one’s beliefs is seeing religion as some blessing from God to get rich (a sin) and never have to pay for taking wealth from underground and worshiping it as a god. When I was told by a wealthy lawyer, “The ‘all in’ church did not work out,” that was a sinner using religion to cover all his sins in the fancy robes of a religion that can be led to bless sinners, because the wealthy own the churches. The moral of Ruth is one has to buy back – redeem – that given up, in order to be reborn and saved (redemption means salvation). Too many people call themselves Christians, when they are nothing more than Mammonites (money worshipers), in a land that cannot even pretend to offer wafers and wine sips as some blessing from God, because the government has warned them not to spread disease. By doing what the government commands, they reject a Covenant of marriage to Yahweh and spread the disease of spiritual famine across the land.


For many weeks now I have ended these commentaries by saying, “your own personal ministry for Yahweh should already be well underway,” because Pentecost Sunday is the symbolic day when one graduates as a wantabe believer in God and Jesus and actually becomes a soul married to Yahweh, reborn as His Son, sent into ministry as Jesus, in a new body of flesh that is a Christ. This Sunday is third from the last of the Ordinary after Pentecost season. Advent then begins and recycles us to preparations of our souls to receive the seed of righteousness that will be Jesus born within us [Year C]. Ministry is Yahweh’s call to marry one’s soul to Him and become His Son reborn, in order to save the world from spiritual famine. The land is in such a famine now because so many refuse to be “all in” in commitment to serve Yahweh and only Yahweh.

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