Signpost for Sunday 8 Nov, 2015: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Ps 127; Heb 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44.
You’ve probably heard or read Mark’s story of the poor widow many times, and if you’re like me you’ll have thought that it’s telling us that you should drop rather more than the change in your pocket or a $5 note into the collection plate. I’ve even been to some churches where the sermon takes Mark 12: 43-44 to spell out exactly that message. But when you delve into this passage a bit more, as I did this week, you find that many scholars and parish priests don’t see it that way.
Historians and biblical scholars have now discovered that the Temple was not just the most important Jewish building, it was also the first century equivalent of the out-of-control big banks that led to our very own global financial crisis. The Temple operated as the nearest thing first century Palestine had to what we would call a central bank or national treasury.
All of which goes a long way to explaining why Jesus turned the money-lenders’ tables over and suggests what the real meaning of the widow’s mite could be. It’s highly likely, then, that Jesus is not so much praising the widow for giving everything she had to the Temple, as condemning the Temple for demanding she give up even the last few cents she had. If there is one thing that is clear from all the gospels it’s that Jesus doesn’t like it when the ‘big boys’ in society exploit other people.
With that in mind, it’s worth considering that in this passage from Mark, no one is suggesting that we should feel guilty about how much we give or that we shoudl literally give so much to the church that we will have nothing left at all. Instead, maybe Mark and Jesus are using this poverty stricken widow as a very striking example of something that still haunts us today: the quiet suffering of the poor in societies where money seems to have the loudest voice and the most influence.