Praising a poor widow, not greedy legal experts

Posted Mar 23, 2018

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Daily Scripture

Mark 12:35-44

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “Why do the legal experts say that the Christ is David’s son? 36 David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said, The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right side until I turn your enemies into your footstool.’ [Psalm 110:1] 37 David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ so how can he be David’s son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

38 As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. 39 They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 40 They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”

41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny [Or two lepta (the smallest Greek copper coin, each worth 1/128 of a single day’s pay), that is, a kodrantes (the smallest Roman coin, equal in value to two lepta)]. 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44 All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

Reflection Questions

Jesus turned the elaborate, often technical way the rabbis and legal experts used the Bible to his own ends. “The Christ” was the title for the promised Messiah. Jesus used Psalm 110 to teach that the Messiah was not “just” David’s descendant, but also his eternal Lord. In the Temple Jesus noticed and prized a widow’s devout generosity, such a welcome contrast to the hostile authorities who kept pursuing him.

  • We use the phrase “all in” about a person fully committed to a belief or course of action. How was the widow Jesus saw in the Temple “all in” for God’s kingdom? (As with the young ruler—cf. Mark 10:17-27—Jesus did not mean it was wrong to be able to pay bills or buy food. He was honoring a heart that worships and serves God before material goods.) In what ways are you “all in” with Jesus? In what ways, if any, are you holding back?
  • N. T. Wright said of the “legal experts,” “They give themselves airs, and have a great reputation for piety, but are only interested in lining their pockets. 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.”* What helps you to monitor your motives, to avoid “putting on a show” that doesn’t match your inner reality?


Lord Jesus, help me to be honest with myself so that I can be honest with other people and with you. I desire to be “all in” for you as the eternal Lord of my life. Amen.

* N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 175.

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Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 7th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group and a men’s group, and serves on the curriculum team.

Literature is filled with stories about little old women, like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, or the Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, or the Old Woman & the Gingerbread Man. 

As a kid, I learned early on to tread carefully around “little old women.”  For example, I might have been tempted to think my Grandmother Erma wasn’t a particularly imposing woman.  However, a few stories of her time as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse near Morganville, Kansas or how she was pregnant with my Dad during the summer of the Dust Bowl in 1936 or, as a young lady, how she was quite handy with a rifle quickly made me realize there was more spunk to her than one might first imagine.  (It didn’t hurt that her homemade waffles were also the stuff of legend.)

Aside: Her favorite joke told by Granddad Orville was about 2 old codgers sitting in the living room while their wives were in the kitchen.  One was talking about a new restaurant in town that they had really enjoyed.  What was the name?  Oh I forget.  Let’s see.  What’s that flower that is red with thorns?  A rose?  That’s it!  (Calling to the kitchen) Rose, what was the name of the restaurant we ate at last week?

Today’s passage illustrates the story of another little old woman - the generous widow.  Mark’s succinct description provides us little information about this woman, but how might we picture her?  I would submit she is probably on the shorter side.  Her skin would be weathered from the sun & the wind.  She might have a slight stoop as she walked.  Due to doing all of her own chores, she’d be wiry & much stronger than you would first expect.  Her hands would be rough & calloused.  Her clothing would be dark colors – nothing flashy or showy.  She’d be very quiet – used to roaming about Jerusalem without anyone even noticing her.

Theologians discern a variety of important lessons from this vignette, but for today’s purposes let’s focus on the minor miracle.  Did you see it?  The miracle from the human/earthly perspective is that the Son of Man, the Messiah not only took notice of this woman but also even commended her for her faithful service.  How did Jesus even spot this quiet, nondescript woman as she subtly made her donation?  Jesus saw this woman’s great act of faithfulness, precisely because He was seeking her out.

I would submit, this has huge implications for us today.  For that Mom who is exhausted at the end of the day only to have her young son “suddenly” remember a shoebox diorama of Valley Forge is due tomorrow, for that husband/caregiver who introduces himself daily to his wife of 60 years as she suffers from dementia & shyly asks if he might have lunch with her, for that teenager who has a heart to volunteer for others & yet still feels invisible - I would submit this scene is a game changer.  Nothing.  Nothing escapes the attention of the Son of God.

I like to think that maybe our widow as she trudged back to her lonely one-room home to prepare a slice of barley bread and a bowl of some thin lentil soup, that perhaps she paused ever so briefly & suddenly felt the warmth & glow of the realization that her Lord & Savior had blessed her.  Maybe she allowed herself a brief smile & went on her way with a slight bounce in her step.

Today as we perform some of those thankless tasks that rarely earn any acknowledgement let alone appreciation, perhaps we should pause & realize that the King of Kings & the Lord of Lords does see us & does bless us this day.

Like our widowed friend, maybe “little old women” can serve as an inspiration for us all.  As an older friend said, “I don’t want my children/grandchildren calling and asking in hushed tones, ‘How is Grandma?’  I want them instead to say, ‘Uh oh.  What is that woman up to today?’”

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