“Beware of the Scribes who devour widows houses, and with great pretense offer elaborate prayers” and “do you see these great buildings? not one stone of this temple will be left. all will be torn down” yet “see that poor woman? out of her poverty she gives. and she has given everything. there is hardly a thing like it in this glorious city.” (Mark 12:38-44)
Even a casual study of the gospels will reveal a number of different paths leading us into Jesus’ final days here on earth. All four gospels include their own vantage point of the passion week, and each render their own intimate account of the only perfect suffering servant. Mark’s gospel [the earliest record] gives us a more rapid-fire approach to all the familiar stories surrounding Jesus’ ministry entanglements during his final stay in the ancient city of David. The style and tone of Matthew is hardly noticed. The elaborate detail of Luke seems missing altogether. Instead, we find Jesus the Nazarene plain and present, every articulation stripped away.
The story of the widows offering in Mark 12, for instance, is just this kind of paring down. On the one hand, there’s very little to the scene itself, nothing more than an observation on the part of Jesus, a small shaft of light cutting through an otherwise dark Passover week. Out of the bustle of everyday life a widow woman emerges with a few copper coins for the temple treasury, an offering hardly worth the bother of long lines and silent disdain that make up the religious courtyard of the day. Yet something is a stir against the backdrop of all our religious ritual and practiced piety, and Jesus takes notice: “See that poor woman? Out of her poverty she gives. And she has given everything. There is hardly a thing like it in all this glorious city.” (Mark 12:44)
Given the context leading us through Jesus’ final Passover week, the glorious city of David appears to have come to rest on two copper coins of its own, two “corner stones” as it were: the religious establishment of the Pharisee-Scribe and the grandeur of the temple building itself. Representative of the wealth of God’s favor and richness of His promised kingdom, both the priest and his practice have been packaged up like a product. It is the system of our history and it will be torn down. What the gospel writer here testifies to is our strengths, our defenses, our justifications, the pinnacle of our grandeur coming down. All will be torn down. And nothing will rise again except one who is transformed by the working of faith in obedience.
Less than a day after Jesus scatters the money changers with his own hand, the smallest of faith figures (this poor widow) wedges into our Christian history almost unrecognized, except that she is recognized by Jesus. And recognized not only as faithful in her regular offerings but as the stark contrast to every kind of power, authority, system, structure or possession this world has to offer. She is like Sampson the blind all over again, standing between two palace pillars, surrendering everything she has left; the world is caving in.
“Beware…” Jesus says. It is not the enormity of our resource that conjures up God’s favor. God’s favor is a grace gift that finds us all in a sort of poverty—all that we are is to be given away. The coins, the religious robes, the royal palaces, these were never really ours anyway. And for us who recognize who we truly are.. we are compelled to leave the house today, offering in hand, bound for Jerusalem.