18 March 2016

Mark 12:38-44

“Beware of the scribes… They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers” (vv. 38, 40).

Psalm: Psalm 64


Throughout the Bible, we encounter a number of widows who play a vital role as individuals in the story (such as the prophet Anna, who is one of the first to recognise in the baby Jesus the one who would bring about "the redemption of Jerusalem" - Luke 2:36-38). Collectively, however, widows embody at least two key themes that run like threads through the tapestry of both the Old and New Testaments.

First (along with 'the fatherless'), they represent the vulnerable in society - those for whom a husband's death is likely to have meant a loss of income and identity, and who deserve our protection. When laying down the rules for a society built on grace and compassion, God makes clear that the welfare of widows and orphans is the collective responsibility of the community (eg Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:17-18). In this passage, Jesus indicates that those entrusted with responsibility for teaching and modelling this way of life had lost sight of these priorities and instead "devour widows' houses" for their own gain.

The second thread is a reminder of the value of the generosity of those who appear to us to have so little to give. In 1 Kings 17:8-16, another unnamed widow feeds the prophet Elijah (not only a stranger, but a man feared and hated by the authorities) with bread that was intended to serve as a final meal for her and her son before they starved to death. In Mark 12:41-44, the widow "out of her poverty" (v. 44) gave two small coins, indicated by Jesus to hold much greater value than the far larger sums contributed by the rich. Both women, unnamed and overlooked within society, take us by surprise with their radical hospitality and generosity. Jesus makes clear that this generosity is not overlooked by God.

To Ponder

  • Take a look at the Joint Public Issues Team's work on the Enough campaign. What can we do today to honour our responsibilities towards 'the widows and the fatherless' (or their equivalent)?
  • What does this story say about the way we give financially to the Church? How much is 'enough'? Do we use the right measures to define 'enough'?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.