The Rev. Paul J Cain
Mark 12:38-44 (with reference to 28-37)
Pretense, Generosity, and Jesus
Proper 27B, 11 November 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] (he) answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
There is no pretense on the part of this one particular scribe. Therefore, he is not far from the kingdom of God. It is always a good idea to agree with Jesus. His Word declares that we are sinners. We confess, “We have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone…” We have not kept God’s Law, His Ten Commandments, nor have we kept the summaries of the law, love the Lord and love your neighbor. We could also confess, “I have not let [God’s] love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.”
We rejoice in other words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them…” God’s will is fulfilled when repentant sinners are forgiven in Jesus’ name. In Jesus, not only are we “not far from the kingdom of God, but we are part of the kingdom of God. We are part of the kingdom of God because of a great mystery posed by Jesus to the often hypocritical, usually self-righteous, and typically faithless scribes. Verses 28-32 and verses 33-37 of Mark 12 prepare us to better understand today’s reading from Mark 12, verses 38-44.
35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.
How is this possible? The Scriptures are clear that the Father gives all His enemies into the hands of His Son, that the Son is at the right hand of the Father, and that God’s Son is also the son of David, as we confess with Luther, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…
Jesus’ humility and selflessness provide a great contrast to the scribes. The scribes were supposed to be students of God’s Word but seem to prefer pleasing men for worldly praise than risking others’ approval in order to please God.
38 And in his teaching [Jesus] (he) said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus’ critique of the scribes includes rebuke of garments that give glory to people rather than glory to God. The greetings here are not merely, “Hello, Pastor.” or “Got your elk yet?” but greetings that gave the scribes what we might refer to today as “celebrity status.” The scribes are one group of leaders or leaders-to-be who will be very shocked when the first are last and the last are first in God’s kingdom. The scribes are well-deserving of “the greater condemnation” not merely because their prayers are long, but because they are but a pretense, a pretend piety in order to rob offerings intended for the Lord. Contrast what Jesus said about the scribes to the faithful actions of the poor widow.
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
There was no pretense with this poor widow. She was generous above all, returning to the Lord what He had given to her. Her trust and faith are palpable. One modern hymn says, “Not what you give but what you keep Is what the King is counting.”
Because of her example, Christians have been inspired to give loose change for special mission projects. And we also intentionally return to the Lord for His use from what He has given us. Money usually tops our mental lists. We are also given to give our talents and time for His work. And we dare not forget that we are also stewards of other people as well as stewards of His Gospel.
Today’s Holy Gospel is best understood in the context of the verses that precede it. Earlier, one scribe agreed with Jesus, at least about what He teaches about the Law reduced to love for God and for one’s neighbor. Jesus then has the opportunity to teach what Scripture says about who He is.
As Christians, we should know clearly what Jesus teaches, who He is, and what He has done and still continues to do for each of us.
There will always be those who pretend to be servants or teachers of God as a pretense for worldly wisdom, glory, power, and influence. Jesus focuses our attention on one poor widow who by faith showed that all she was and had was God’s, to be used for His purposes in Christ Jesus.
Thank the Lord that Jesus gave all on the cross for us and for our salvation. His resurrection gives us wealth eternal. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.