Mark 12: Left overs

Application

The Tuesday of Holy Week (i.e., the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter) was a busy one for Jesus. Just two days after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem and one day after he expelled all the merchants and moneychangers from the temple courts, not one of the citizens of Jerusalem or thousands of pilgrims in town for the Passover hadn’t heard that he was around, but by Tuesday morning, the murmurs had already started. The crowds were still there, but rather than pressing as close as they could and hanging on Jesus’ every word, they were hanging back just a bit and whispering amongst themselves. Questions like, “Why hasn’t he announced the revolt yet?” and “When will he throw out Pilate and company?” wafted past the ears of the disciples. And statements like, “I just don’t know about this guy,” “I wonder what’s for lunch,” and “If he doesn’t do something pretty soon, I’m out of here,” couldn’t help but reverberate in their own minds as well.

I mean, the triumphant entry was a great prelude, and the cleansing of the temple had been a great show and all, but they were ready for the main attraction.

So when Tuesday came and Jesus started the morning with a parable which only attacked the religious leaders, everyone was confused. When he told the Pharisees that they should both give to God and pay their civil taxes, confusion turned to puzzlement. When he slapped the Sadducees around for rejecting Scripture and discounting the power of God, puzzlement turned to impatience. When he debated the most important commandment and about railed against the pride of the Jewish leadership, the crowd sentiment migrated from impatience to annoyance, and then to outright frustration. In fact, the only bright spot the entire day was when Jesus talked about being God himself. When even that developed into nothing even resembling a government coup, though, it only accelerated the spiral of the day and Jesus’ ministry so that, by mid-afternoon, the crowd was gradually thinning. People were wandering off and disappearing into the streets of Jerusalem, and the disciples knew that the Jesus’ window of opportunity for capturing the hearts and minds of the Jews and seizing the city from Rome was closing.

So as the sun nosed downward toward the horizon, when Jesus sat down across from the giving boxes and motioned his disciples and the gaggle of people that remained to gather closely, they all pressed forward, eager to catch the historic proclamation at last.

But Jesus only motioned at some old woman across the court. She was thin, gaunt even. Her tattered smock was really more of a rag than anything else. Her bare feet were swollen and worn, and when she walked, it was slow and with a noticeable limp. And considering that the people in front of and behind her all wore fancy robes, stood upright, and were constantly looking about to make sure that people were marveling at the big checks and chests of treasure that they intended to give, the woman’s resolute focus on only the gift box was striking.

When she finally reached the box, the nearby priest, who had fawned and flattered each of the men before her, took no notice of her except to shake his head with clear derision as she dropped her gift into the box. The first coin tinkled softly as it landed within the box, a far cry from the satisfying thunks which resounded when the last man dropped his brick of gold in. The sound of the second tiny copper coin was swallowed by the impatient condescension of the guy three places behind her.

As she hobbled off and disappeared once more into the crowd, Jesus watched her go, but every eye around him had turned back to him, unimpressed.

“This poor widow,” Jesus said after she was finally gone, “has put more into the treasury than all the others.”

I can imagine the snorts of the crowd. The rolling of eyes. Even the derisive shaking of more than a few heads. I suspect some people even waved him off and chose that moment to leave. Jesus had lost his mind, they surely thought. This woman’s gift was almost literally nothing compared to the extravagant offerings of the men who had been in line around her. But for those who stuck around long enough for Jesus to quietly finish his thought a moment later, there was an essential lesson to be learned.

All the rest of the people in the giving line that day had given out of their wealth, or excess. They would return home to stocked cupboards and handsome bank accounts. They really didn’t need even the small fortunes that they gave. This woman, on the other hand, had given the last two coins that she had. And when she returned home, there would be only bare cupboards and an empty bank account. While the others in line would feast that night on steaks and burgers and boast about how much they had given to God, she would fast because there was no food in the house and than God for all He had done – and was going to do – for her.

Suddenly, the meager gift of this poor old woman didn’t seem so small anymore. And the expectations of the disciples, that Jesus would make of them all rich and powerful princes over the newly established kingdom of God on earth, seemed strangely out of place.

Even now, three years after they started following Jesus, the disciples focused on all that they were giving up for him and what grand things he should do for them in return. Yet they had never really gone hungry. Never done without clothing. Never truly confronted poverty. They had not yet given everything – absolutely everything – that they had to the Lord. Jesus’ words made clear that this was what he ultimately expected of them.

If all we ever give Jesus is what we can afford, we will never give him enough. We are called to surrender to him everything. Money, yes. But also family, friends, homes, cars, jobs, comfort, and even life itself. The gifts that Jesus really values aren’t the ones that come from what we have left over after everything else, but the ones that determine what we have left for everything else. Elsewhere, they’re called the firstfruits. In other words, the first stuff to come out of the field. It’s supposed to be the most, and the best. And everything else comes later.

So how is your life ordered? Are you like the rich people around the old widow, who gave tremendous amounts of God, but did so out of their excess? Are are you like the old widow, who gave to God absolutely everything that she had and trusted Him to take care of the rest?

Notes

  • (1) For the first time in several chapters, Jesus speaks once again in parables. This time, though, you would have had to be absolutely ignorant to not grasp the parallels between Jewish history and the story. Thus, everyone who was standing there knew that Jesus was talking about the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, etc. And I suspect there were more than a few people that were moving subtly away for fear that the officials would order Jesus and all his followers seized immediately.
  • (12) In the religious leaders’ minds, Jesus had thrown down the gauntlet. He had challenged them and their authority publicly and blatantly, and as good politicians, they were quick to lash back. Since they had no real dirt on Jesus and the people were still largely on his side, if a bit shaken, though, they knew that they couldn’t do it here and now. That would be political suicide. So they retreated to come up with a better plan.
  • (13) The Pharisees and the Herodians, working together, must have been an interesting sight to see. the Pharisees were vehemently opposed to Roman rule, and the Herodians actually supported it. For the religious leaders, this seemed a win-win situation. If Jesus answered no, the Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, the Herodians would run screaming to the Roman authorities, and Jesus would have been thrown in jail as an insurrectionist. If Jesus answered yes, the Jews should pay taxes, the Pharisees would run screaming to the Sanhedrin and the masses, and Jesus would have been rejected by everyone who hated the Romans, which was pretty much everyone besides the Herodians. Either way, Jesus would have been neutralized.
  • (19-23) The chances of this scenario actually happen would seem utterly remote.
  • (24-27) Jesus saw right through the ploy and maneuvered the minefield of the question with supernatural prowess. Regardless of how he answered the question, if his answer assumed an afterlife, the Sadducees – who did not believe in the resurrection – would have attacked him. If he had appeased the Sadducees, the Pharisees, who did believe in the resurrection, would have been after him. Jesus’ response disarms the Sadducees by pointing out their rejection of anything after Deuteronomy as the ultimate fault in their reasoning. He then answers the question directly, explaining that marriage will be obsolete in heaven. And then, to make absolutely certain that they would not come after him on the basis of his answer, Jesus lays out an argument for the resurrection on the basis of a Scriptural passage which they would accept. In short, Jesus started with the question they had asked to disassemble their faulty paradigm and then introduced correct thoughts beginning with something they already knew and accepted.
  • (43-44) Clearly, it’s not about how much you give in terms of sheer quantity, but how much you give in relation to what you have.
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