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Mark 12:38-44 – The poor widow gave everything she had

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

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.”


This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 27. It will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a priest on Sunday November 11, 2018. It is important because Jesus pointed out the disparity between those who wear church robes and the laity, as well as the wealthy of the church compared to the poor. Jesus said to beware of incorrect assumptions of piety because of collars and donations to the church treasury.

On the heels of the Gospel lesson from Mark that was delivered the prior Sunday[1], where Jesus made a spiritual connection with “one of the scribes,” we now read of Jesus saying, “Beware of the scribes.” This follows the encounter with a scribe, but after Jesus was again teaching [being inspected for blemishes] in the Temple. As part of that day’s discussion, Jesus had pointed out the error that the scribes had used in stating their conclusion that the Messiah will be the “son of David.” Jesus used logic to defeat the logic of the scribes, who spent more time than ordinary Jews coming up with answers to the questions the people had, such as, “Who will the Messiah be?”

Following that answer to the crowd [of which those trying to find error in Jesus’ words were present], Jesus then gave this warning about the scribes, giving his assessment of the privilege the scribes took advantage of, even when they knew less than they put on that they knew. To fully grasp what Jesus said next, it is important to realize that the scribes were the equivalent of modern scholastic researchers of holy texts [Judeo-Christian], with most then being like those now – far removed from life as a practicing Jew or Christian. As scholars they considered themselves to be part of the elite.

When we read that the scribes were those “who like to walk around in long robes,” this paraphrase misses the point of the word “thelontōn,” which means “desiring.” While “desire” can be reduced to “wanting, wishing, intending, and designing,” the “liking to walk around” is based on personal “will,” and not some mandatory rule that says a scribe must always wear a robe ‘in the work place AND in public’. Even if there were a ‘scribe dress code’, they would have written it and made it a point of mandating what they liked to wear.

When Peter recalled Jesus adding that the scribes did this “to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets,” this is stating that the wearing of robes ‘off campus’ was to gain personal profit from being a scholar. The robes worn within the Temple’s library and as theological professors on the steps of the Temple were that of academia. The robes of a scribe let those within the Temple walls know who was a scribe, without needing to ask. It would be like a military officer wearing his or her uniform, which displayed a rank that others on a base must immediately recognize, as a matter of maintaining a service hierarchy. However, ‘off base’ or outside the Temple walls, where common people displayed no rank or privilege, dressing like normal folk was allowed.

By Jesus pointing out how the scribes were always found wearing their finest uniforms in public, he was saying they purposefully intended to play the role of elite rank, in order to gain favors that were not required of the poor and common people to give. They got discounted food and at-cost dry goods from vendors. The synagogues would give them front row seats and make others stand, placing them close to the speakers, while others might not hear as clearly in the back. The seats of favor would intimidate the rabbis, influencing them to say what they knew the scribes had taught, rather than speak from a connection to the Godhead. The places of honor at the banquets were near the head of the table, where the host sat. There, they would reap royal service and the choicest meats and drinks.

Imagine how skinny I would be without this frock!

Not only do the scribes profit from good deals and free lunches, they visit widows and make demands on their property, which a widowed woman without sons could do little to prevent. Jesus said they were “devouring” (from “katesthiontes,” meaning “eating up, eating until it is finished, squandering, and injuring”) what little a widow could have. They did this by placing guilt on them and making threats of laws being broken, forcing the Temple to make them outcast. The scribes did this for personal gain.  For old Jewish women, being one of God’s chosen people was all they had.

Then after going out to rob old women of their last jar of meal and oil [an allusion to an optional accompanying Old Testament reading], leaving them to starve to death, the scribes would recite their scholastic dissertations as if they were prayers to God. They would pretend to pray for the contributions of the dead, when such prayers of thanks never came when they were alive.  Therefore, the scribes offered up prayers for self-recognition, as if lengthy prayers were the only prayers they thought God appreciated.

As we remember our dear departed donor, on whose land our new cathedral will be built, let me now offer this prayer of thanksgiving.

Of this corruption Jesus had witnessed [and had inside information via the Christ Mind to know], he said, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The word translated as ‘condemnation” is “krima.” That is a legal term that means “judgment; a verdict; sometimes implying an adverse verdict,” as “a condemnation.” It bears the essence of “a lawsuit, as a case at law,” which was what the scribes specialized in studying and teaching.

The word translated as “greater” is “perissoteron,” which implies an abundance of, leaning towards “excessive,” “vehemently” administered. That says the judgment of God, towards those who the scribes condemn publicly and privately, will pale in comparison to the verdict that will be handed down in their cases, for the misdeeds of the scribes.

But I used to play a fine, upstanding doctor and respected citizen on TV.

It is important to see how the Law was given to the children of Israel for each to memorize and live by them. The “rabbi” for each family was the father. Each tribe of Israel had elders, who were connected to Moses physically, but should have been connected to God spiritually. The high priest (Aaron) offered sacrifices for the sins of the whole (and himself individually). A “scribe” was a useless position in that initial organization, as his only job was to record the Law on scrolls, not interpret them.

The elevation of scribes to being scholarly teacher and interpreters of the Law came after all of Judah had been lost. It was lost because few knew the details of the Law, and fewer followed them. A scribe then became one judge amid the returning Jews to Judea and Galilee, to whom the common people were told to turn to, so failure would not happen again.

The problem was the scribes did more misinterpreting of the Word of God than they showed competence, through divine guidance. Their failing to tell the people, “I really don’t know what it means, other than what the words appear to say, because I, like you, am not that much smarter than you are,” meant falsely representing themselves as those approved by God to speak for Him.

God did not give His approval. That was what Jesus was telling the people to “Beware” (with a capital “B”).

The Greek word written is “Blepete,” which is rooted in “blepó.” It better says to “Look, See, Perceive, or Discern,” with the implication being to “Be careful” and “Take heed.” This says to be vigilant and aware when one hears a scribe teaching, because one must question them as to how they draw their conclusions.

In other words, Jesus called the scribes (largely) liars, which meant the long robes they wore made them false shepherds. Because they avowed to speak the language of God (from the scrolls) they were self-proclaimed prophets. However, due to their lies about the meaning of the Word, they were not true prophets but false prophets.

This leads one to the warnings of God, through Moses, in Deuteronomy 18:20. There is written: “The prophet who dares to speak a message in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.” While a physical execution could certainly be read into that commandment, one must realize that “death” is metaphor for not gaining the reward of eternal life.  That was (and still is) the purpose of being God’s chosen people. Therefore, when Jesus said the scribes faced “greater condemnation,” that judgment would be banishment from Heaven.

Unfortunately, the realm of Christianity today has become top-heavy with false prophets, many who proclaim to speak for Jesus Christ, the external (yet ethereal) divine presence at the right hand of God. Simply by pretending to know what Jesus would do, they are breaking the same commandment the scribes broke; and, it is known to be a lie, because the right hand of God is an Apostle, who has been reborn in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is impossible to speak for Jesus Christ when one is supposed to be Jesus Christ AND when one is reborn as Jesus Christ, then one does not enter the realm of politics.  Is that not what “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” mean?  Does not “Render unto God what is God’s” a statement that spirituality is the only goal of God’s people?

Jesus would have been talking to pilgrims on the Temple steps, outside the Nicanor Gate. Those steps rose from the Court of the Women, from which the Treasury alcoves were located. While it is not known how many alms boxes were arranged in those opposing rooms, it would have been near that court area that Jesus and his disciples “sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury” (or “collection boxes”).

Having just recently answered someone’s question on the steps to the Nicanor Gate (about why that Jewish someone had heard a scribe explain a law differently than Jesus had taught), Jesus’ warning about the scribes using their position within the Temple to profit from both rich and poor, led him to point out to his disciples what he meant.  As he sat and watched the treasury activity, he knew the treasury would bring forth an example of what he had said to be wary of.

Jesus made his disciples learn by seeing for themselves how: “Many rich people put in large sums.” The disciples were from humble roots and had never known the wealth possessed by the rich. They had not yet faced any temptations to turn their backs to God for thirty pieces of silver [not copper].  One can imagine they were impressed by the amount of money they saw being dropped into the collection boxes [especially Judas Iscariot].

Jesus would have known the disciples would have wide eyes over such large donations being made, so he sat quietly and let the “many rich” that were present make their ritual commitments, so the Temple business of dealing with the poor could be funded. Then, after “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny,” Jesus called their attention to that donation.

Jesus said, “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.”

Don’t think the widow was unhappy about only being able to give two pennies. See her with a smile on her face, because she gave her all.

That meant that the “poor widow” only had “two small copper coins” to her name (called “kodrantés” in Greek, but “quadrans” in Latin), which were the smallest Roman coins minted. She put “everything she had” into the collection box.

For as little as she had, the rich gave about that little of their wealth, even though the amounts given seemed large and generous. When the donation ratio is 100% [poor widow] to 1% [many rich] (a 100:1 ratio), the rich were certainly not giving as much as they could.

Now, while this ratio is a figment of my imagination, it is likewise a figment of the imagination of those who pretend to speak for Jesus Christ as they stand on soapboxes with megaphones and lead protests against the players on Wall Street.  The wealthy have recently been targeted [within the last decade] as being those who are said to be “the one percent.”  Someone has come up with the number that says one percent of all people own ninety-nine percent of the world’s wealth.

Holy protesters who demand the wealth of the world be shared equally?

Jesus did not point out the law that said the land owners (the rich) had to leave the outer ten percent of their crops for the poor, such that this reading was meant to make a statement that the rich were not putting in ten percent of their wealth.  At that time, when the Roman’s owned all the land, but Jews were allowed to buy deeds for parcels of land and pay taxes to Rome, Jesus was not proposing that an uprising should take place.  Jesus was not teaching his disciples that it was necessary to force the rich to support the poor (something alms were for), such that the laws of Moses should be amended and new laws written, which would force the rich to become poor.

Jesus was not saying that future Christian churches should establish a heuristic of ten percent tithing … not to support the poor, but to support the organizations called churches.  In short, Jesus was not concerned with the money element of this lesson.

He was driving home a point about the scribes. This “poor widow” was just like the other poor widows whom the scribes “devoured widows’ houses.” They were said to “eat it up until finished,” by misusing the Law when they visited old ladies with houses of value. Wealthy Jews could pay higher rent in such properties. Rather than the poor widow being left with two cents to by food to eat (again, this ties in to an optional Old Testament reading that can accompany this Gospel reading), this devoted Jewish widow gave one hundred percent to those who pretended to be her shepherds.

She was “all-in,” even though she barely had two pennies to rub together. She gave “everything she had” because she trusted the false shepherds.

In Ezekiel 34:16, God said through His prophet (about false shepherds and the flocks they were prophesied to bring harm to): “I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them—with judgment!”

Hey little lamb, you lost? I can show you the way, if you would like me to.

Jesus was using the example of a poor widow woman being injured by the lies of scribes. The poor widow was probably old and feeble. Giving all the money she had would play into the hands of the scribes, who wanted to inherit her rights to a house. She had no heirs, as her son would have assumed her debts as being his own. She was poor because she was unable to provide for herself and she was soon to die because of the injury done by the men of law.

Their verdict was to kill her, using her love of the law and wanting to remain in good standing as a Jew.

God’s verdict, however, would be to grant the poor widow eternal life for her devotion, while the scribes would face a greater judgment … one they would not be expecting.

As the Gospel reading for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry for the LORD should be underway – one should have been made aware of the false teachings of those saying they know what Jesus would do if he were alive today – the message here is to see the verdict that comes from God’s Judgment, for having lived a life under the pretense of religion, rather than having loved God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength, is one that just might be an unexpected shock that a soul is unprepared to hear.

In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, there is the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10).

They wanted to become members of the new church of Jews that Peter and the other Apostles were forming. That church was not for people pretending to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Disbelievers still had the Jewish synagogues.  The new church was only for those who had been filled with the Holy Spirit, due to an immediate opening of their hearts and love pouring out to God. They were all those who had been reborn as Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and the Christ Mind.

Membership in that new church required the sacrifice of self-ego, such that wealth was not something individually held. Wealth was held in common (a treasury) for the good of the whole church (all Apostles[2]). In that way, no one was poor, no one was rich, all needs were met and all served the Lord as a most holy and righteous priests (i.e.: Christians).

In verses one and two we see how Ananias and his wife sold a piece of property, and then agreed to hold back a portion of the proceeds for themselves. Think of this as a situation of wanting to be Christians, but they were lying about having received the Holy Spirit.  They were “desiring” just like the scribes.  They so wanted to get in on this new church venture (for whatever self-motivations they saw) that they sold one piece of property (possibly of many they owned). Still, because they were not totally committed to God (perhaps they had some reservations about losing everything they had) they held back some of the cash. One can assume they kept it hidden somewhere secret that only they knew: how much that was and where it was stashed. The remainder Ananias took and lay at Peter’s feet (as it was coins in a bag).[3]

In verses three, four and five we read, “Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.”

Peter’s questions asked were statements that said, “Nobody told you to give anything up.  God certainly did not tell to lie as a way to gain His favor.”

Some texts say he “gave up the ghost.” Death is the release of a soul, but Ananias gave up his chance for the Holy Ghost by lying to it.

When that reading was discussed in a church lectionary class that I attended (years ago), the discussion ended as it was about time for the next church service to begin. As the leader of that lectionary class hurried off to get settled into his favorite seat in the church (possibly a favored seat?), I hurried to ask him, “Whatever happened to that all-in church?”

He barely turned his head my way as he said with a smile, “That didn’t work out very well.” Then he kept hurrying to his seat.

Just by coincidence, the man was a wealthy lawyer. He contributed large sums of money to that church, and he was involved with leading discussion groups and being deeply involved with more in-depth study programs. He was what I consider a very nice man … a Christian man … in today’s partially-in church.

I can only imagine that he saw the two pennies the poor widow woman gave, in this lesson today, as a good example of how the poor widows today are better off, due to taxing the rich more. The welfare state cares for poor widows, unlike the Jewish leaders of Herod’s Temple. It took Christianity to appoint bishops to correct that problem.

Not long ago, the lesson was Jesus telling his disciples, “It is harder to get a rich man into heaven, than it is to get a camel through the eye of the needle.” There also was the parable of the talents, which so many today see as a lesson on signing up for church stewardship pledges, reminding the people how much they can afford to give. One cannot forget that there also was the parable about the poor beggar Lazarus and the rich man.   All [so many] have a theme of money.

Then there is the saying, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

None of those lessons say anyone has to give any money, to anyone, at any time.  Money only has value in the earthly realm.

Being Christian is not about joining a club, such as Ananias and Sapphira thought. There are no monetary dues for being a Christian. The love of God cannot be placed on a scale and measured by ounces and pounds. The only portion of love of God that can make one a Christian is one hundred percent (“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”) Therefore, it never worked out very well for a church of All Saints to be anything less than All Saints.

We are supposed to be all-in.  That “membership fee” is not based on one’s material wealth.  It is based on faith.

When everything one has is given to assure that God’s work is done (knowing God does not seek to feed the world or allow anyone capable of walking a thousand miles to be given some amount of free wealth, but God wants Saints to pass on the Holy Spirit to those who seek to know God), then God will make sure that the money jar you just emptied, so a fellow Saint could have a coat, is now full again (this related to that optional Old Testament reading that associates with this Gospel reading).  Money becomes nothing more than a tool that must be used, so positive growth can result (parable of the talents).  Positive results are measured in faith given and faith returned.

When one is all-in for God, then there is no need to worry about someone wearing a collar coming to visit, suggesting that it is time to remember the church when you pass away.  That promise of eternal happiness can only be promised to those who held back most of what they owned, having never given God any love.

When one has submitted to God completely, any physical property left over when one dies will go to surviving family.  Material inheritance will have been set up for a church of people, not an organization with buildings to maintain and employees to pay.  A church of people is usually sons and daughters and close friends who have had the Holy Spirit passed onto them, keeping worldly wealth at the feet of Saints.

In the end, it will not matter what physical possessions are left behind.  After all, you can’t take it with you.  What you do take is your soul and physical death needs to become the entrance into the eternal kingdom.  This is how this reading in Mark ends; it states, “all she had to live on,” or literally from the Greek, “all the life of her.”

When Jesus pointed out to his disciples, “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had,” everything she had was eternal “life.”  The time to suffer through physical life [mortal existence], for a promise of eternal life, is long before one is set upon one’s death bed.  That is not when one wants to ask God to forgive a lifetime that kept total commitment held back.

Eternal life does not come at discounted rates.  This lesson says to always give all you have, with love of God being the only currency that ultimately matters.


[1] The Proper 26 readings were probably rejected in lieu of the All Saints readings that normally fell on Thursday, November 1, 2018.  Because few went to a mid-week church service [too lazy], many churches will feel it customary to toss out the Proper 26 readings and give a [usually] poor assessment of what All Saints represents. Actually, this Gospel reading that warns of such berobed changes, in order to meet the lazy needs of high roller contributors [who never attend church on any day other than Sunday morning], is why the Episcopal Lectionary says, “All Saints may be celebrated” instead of the readings set up for Proper 26.  I add this just in case you went to church and heard nothing that came from Mark 12, Hebrews 9, and Ruth 1.

[2] It is important to return to the element of All Saints day, as this can now be seen not as a tribute to all the dead Saints that have been officially recognized by one or more Christian churches, but a recognition that all members of a church should be Saints.  If it is not All Saints, then the church becomes a chain of weak links, which ultimately leads to a weak chain that breaks apart.  Think about that and ask yourself, “When was the last time I saw a real, true Saint?”

[3] While not stated in this story in Acts 5, the bag of money laid at Peter’s feet would have been returned to the heirs of Ananias and Sapphira, not kept as an unholy offering.

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