The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost — is November 7, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 12:38-44

12:38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,

12:39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

12:40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

12:41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

12:42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

12:43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

12:44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We nearly pick up from where we left off last time. These are the intervening verses between last week’s reading and this week’s:

Whose Son Is the Christ?

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.

Our Lord cites Psalm 110:1 in verse 36:

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Members of the Sanhedrin were testing Jesus theologically. They failed every time. Yet, the onlookers listened to what Jesus had to say.

Matthew Henry elaborates:

Now this galled the scribes, to have their ignorance thus exposed, and, no doubt, incensed them more against Christ; but the common people heard him gladly, Mark 12:37; Mark 12:37. What he preached was surprising and affecting; and though it reflected upon the scribes, it was instructive to them, and they had never heard such preaching. Probably there was something more than ordinarily commanding and charming in his voice and way of delivery, which recommended him to the affections of the common people; for we do not find that any were wrought upon to believe in him, and to follow him, but he was to them as a lovely song of one that could play well on an instrument; as Ezekiel was to his hearers, Ezekiel 33:32. And perhaps some of these cried, Crucify him, as Herod heard John Baptist gladly, and yet cut off his head.

The events of Mark 12 took place on the Wednesday of Passion Week, two days before the Crucifixion.

Jesus was teaching in the temple. This was His last public teaching session.

He warned the people — ‘Beware’ — about the scribes, the religious lawyers, who enjoyed walking around in their long robes and being greeted with respect in the marketplaces (verse 38). They had the best seats in the synagogues and at banquets (verse 39).

Jesus went on to say that they devoured widow’s houses and, to look better in the eyes of the public, say long prayers. He passed judgement on them saying that their condemnation would be the greater (verse 40).

It is rather serendipitous that this reading comes after the first week of COP26, the synod of the secular religion of climate change. The parallels between the two are uncanny.

John MacArthur says that the people listening to Jesus were aware of the religious corruption but they could do nothing about it and they had been steeped in the system:

I’m convinced that when Jesus wiped out the corrupt businesses in the temple on Tuesday of that week, that many of the people were attracted to Him because of that, because they knew the corruption.

They knew they were paying ten times the price they should pay for a sacrificial animal. They knew they were – they were getting bilked in the exchange of coins when they brought their temple tax offering. They understood the charlatanism and the robbery that was going on there, and Jesus even said, “This is My Father’s house, it’s to be a house of prayer, you turned it into a robber’s den.” I don’t – I don’t think that drove the people away; I think that drew the people to it.

They could see some of the corruption of the system, even though they couldn’t extract themselves from it, and they were bound to it by lifelong commitments to what they had been taught.

MacArthur compares Mark’s account with Luke’s:

And now, as we approach our text, the people are listening; the end of verse 37 says, “The large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.” Luke 20 verse 45, the parallel passage, says, “All the people were listening”; all the people. And then it says, “He said to His disciples” – so around Him are the disciples.

But beyond them, that immediate group gathered around Him – the apostles and whatever assorted disciples were there – the whole crowd, the massive crowd in the temple, is listening to Him. By the way, when Luke says, “All the people were listening, but He said this to His disciples,” that’s a transition. That’s a transition, because after He says this, in verses 38 to 40, to everybody, from here on out, He speaks only to His disciples, as verse 43 indicates, “Calling His disciples to Him, He said” – so this is the final word to the crowds.

The rest is going to be for the disciples. The sad note here: not only have the leaders gone away for the moment in shame and silence, thwarted in their efforts, but the people have never moved from their superficial interest in Him to a real and genuine faith in Him, and so He is really through talking to them as well. These are, then, His last words publicly – His last words publicly, verses 38 to 44 – very strong words and very, very condemning words.

Henry says that there was nothing wrong in wearing a long robe, however, the scribes wore them with pride, as if to say they were closer to God, when nothing could be further from the truth:

1. They affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes, as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his disciples go with their loins girt.

2. They affect to appear very good; for they pray, they make long prayers, as if they were very intimate with heaven, and had a deal of business there. They took care it should be known that they prayed, that they prayed long, which, some think, intimates that they prayed not for themselves only, but for others, and therein were very particular and very large; this they did for a pretence, that they might seem to love prayer, not only for God’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to glorify, but for their neighbour’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to be serviceable to.

3. They here aimed to advance themselves: they coveted applause, and were fond of it; they loved salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts; these pleased a vain fancy; to have these given them, they thought, expressed the value they had for them, who did know them, and gained them respect for those who did not.

As for receiving a greater condemnation, MacArthur explains why:

They are hypocrites – they may do it in different ways, but they are hypocrites, and they are destructive – so our Lord cautions and characterizes. Then He condemns – end of verse 40: “These will receive greater condemnation.” You know, there are people who think that if you’re religious, you’ll receive less condemnation. Sometimes you hear people say, “Well, I’m sure – I’m sure that I’m going to go to heaven, because I’m a very religious person.” Really. I think hell will be the hottest for religious people – especially religious false teachers, agents of Satan, who, sons of hell themselves, produce more sons of hell.

They will receive a greater condemnation, not a lesser condemnation; not because they were good, or moral, or religious, will they receive less judgment – they will receive more judgment. If you have the idea today that there’s good in all religions, and God loves all religions, and we need to find God in all religions, and find the good that is there – Jesus pronounces a greater condemnation on the religious leaders of Israel – who are monotheists, who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator God of the Old Testament.

But because they had apostatized from the true religion and come to a self-righteous works system, and because they had rejected Him and the gospel, their hell would be hotter than everybody else. You don’t want to get too close to the truth, because if you’re too close to the truth, the potential for judgment is even greater. “How much greater judgment will the one feel” – Hebrews says – “who has trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing?”

That’s the greatest of all judgment, to reject Christ; better you never know Him, hell will be less furious. The idea is clear: those who are in the wrong religion will receive the far-greater suffering, the far-greater damnation, because of that false religion, and because they reject the true gospel, the true Christ, as I just quoted from Hebrews 10. Don’t be fooled by them, don’t be drawn to them, be warned – they are dangerous, and they will be condemned.

The scribes were Pharisees and they handled all matters of law in what was a theocratic society.

Part of their work involved settling estates, which involved enriching themselves and the temple.

MacArthur explains why Jesus condemned them for their treatment of widows:

… the key thing to note right now in verse 40 would be, “They devour widows’ houses” – file that in your mind – “they devour widows’ houses” – that’s just awful. They’re supposed to be the shepherds of the sheep, and if there’s anybody that needs to be protected, who would it be? Widows; widows.

Pure religion – James says that you care for the widows and orphans; that’s an Old Testament command reiterated over and over and over in the Old Testament. I could take you to 25 or 30 Old Testament passages, starting in Exodus 22 and moving right on through Deuteronomy, all the way to Malachi chapter 3, and all in between, and show you how much the Old Testament has to say about the people of God having responsibility to those who are widows in their midst, to care for them.

What do these men do? They consumed them – that verb means to plunder them – it means literally to eat them up – how did they do that? Well, a little bit of historical study will provide an answer for that; there are records about how they did it – their own records, by the way. These false leaders would take support, ask money from widows for themselves – though that was forbidden. They would cheat widows out of their estate, while they were offering them legal protection.

In other words, a widow would have an estate, she would want to make sure that it was secure and safe, and so she would bring in a scribe to take care of the legal work to protect her estate, and while pretending to protect her estate, he would take it. They would mismanage the property of widows. They would abuse the hospitality of widows – living in their houses, taking up space in their houses, eating their food in a gluttonous fashion, making excessive demands, leeching off of them.

They would take money from older widows with deficient mental powers – as the older women lost the ability to reason and think what was going on, they would steal them blind. Then they would take the house of a widow in pledge for the debt that they were owed for their legal services; then when the widow died, they would own the house – nothing would be left if she had children. They demanded that the widows give to purchase blessing from God – as they demanded that from everybody in their system.

Jesus sat and watched the people contributing to the temple treasury; many of the rich put in vast sums of money (verse 41).

Then a widow came to give money to the temple, putting in two small, nearly worthless, copper coins (verse 42), or ‘mites’ in some translations.

MacArthur explains the system. The people had been taught that giving money to the temple purchased salvation:

Their whole system was built on the fact you had to bring your money to the temple – there were thirteen receptacles in the Court of the Women where you dropped your money; that’s how you purchase your salvation. The rabbi said with alms you purchase your redemption. The money went in there, it came out the bottom into the pockets of these religious leaders – the more money that was given, the richer they got – and the money needed to be given, because that’s how you bought your salvation, so people were literally pouring money into those places – those receptacles – to buy redemption.

Jesus called His disciples to Him and said emphatically — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the poor widow gave more than everyone else contributing to the treasury (verse 43).

He said that the others contributed out of their abundance but that she gave away her last two coins, which was all she had to live on (verse 44).

I am dreading tomorrow’s sermon, because it will likely be about giving to your church until your coffers run dry.

MacArthur sees this entirely differently. He relates it to the corrupt system and says that Jesus condemned forcing a poor widow to give her last two coins, leaving her totally destitute and dependent on society:

No matter who you read on this – or what sermons you might hear on this – typically, people will say this is how we ought to give. We ought to give till it hurts, we ought to give sacrificially, we ought to give in a surrendered fashion. We ought to give so that we completely demonstrate trust in God, and that’s how this woman gave. There isn’t one word of support in this text for any of those perspectives; it doesn’t say anything about her attitude at all.

The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t even tell us that she was a believer; it doesn’t say that she knew the true God, that she believed in Christ; she is not a spiritual hero in the story. What is she in the story? I’ll tell you what she is, she’s a victim; she is a victim. A victim of what? She is a victim of the system. She is the ultimate victim of a system that “devours widows’ houses” – verse 40 – that’s the connection. This has nothing to do with Christian giving, unless you think Christian giving is, “Give everything you have; take a vow of poverty, go home and die.”

You think that’s Christian giving? Or maybe you would go to Plan B: “Give everything you have, take a vow of poverty, spend the rest of your life leeching on everybody else so you can survive.” Where in the Bible is it a Christian principle of giving to give everything you have and go home and die? That is not in the Bible, not at all – it makes no sense, and by the way, the people who gave other than the woman, there’s no judgment rendered on them – Jesus doesn’t condemn that. Why aren’t they the model?

Why don’t we say, “Isn’t it wonderful that rich people gave large sums?” That’s great, isn’t it? You wouldn’t argue that, would you? In fact, if you wanted a model of Christian giving, you’ve got to go with the rich who gave large sums, not the woman who gave everything and went home to die; that – God has never asked that. He doesn’t say that the rich gave too little, He doesn’t say the widow gave exactly the right amount, He doesn’t say the rich had too much left and the widow had the right amount left – none.

He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude when they gave a lot, and the woman had a good attitude when she gave everything – He doesn’t say anything about any motivations or any attitudes at all. Her outward action is simply an evidence of what that system did to widows. You want blessing of God, you give your money. She’s destitute; she’s got two cents left. She says to herself, “Either I take my two cents and buy my last meal, or I do what they tell me – send them the money, and God will bless me” – does that sound like a TV preacher to you?

That’s the system: send me your money. If you’re down to your last penny, send me your money, open the floodgates – God will bless you if you send me your money. It was a den of robbers, and they were stealing it from the worst, the lowest, the most destitute, the worst off. This isn’t to teach us about attitudes in giving or amounts in giving; this is to teach us about corrupt religion. Beware of the false shepherds, the false teachers who take the last coins out of the widow’s purse to fill their coffers, on the pretense that that kind of giving is the path to blessing; that’s the prosperity gospel.

There’s nothing in her about the Lord loved her, she was in the kingdom. There’s nothing here about, “Okay, you disciples, you need to follow her example, so take the bag with all the money we’ve got in there and go in there and give it.” That’s the last thing He would have told them. Why would you put your money in a robbers’ den? You wouldn’t commend that; she was a victim. There’s no invitation for the disciples to imitate what she did – empty their pockets, empty the little purse that they carried – would have been a perfect time to do that, right?

Jesus is going on the cross, this would be a great time to test your faith, dump it all in. No. This is not any place for the Lord to inject a lesson on giving. This isn’t about giving, this is about taking. This is all in a judgment context – judgment, verses 38 to 40, and judgment starting in chapter 13 – the whole section as He talks about what’s coming is judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment. The context all along is judgment, and certainly the rest of His message recorded in Matthew 23 is judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment.

And all those woes pronounced on the leaders are literally justified and validated by this one woman’s act. She is a poor, dear woman who is nothing but a son of hell, captive to a false religious system, dumping her last two coins into that system under the promise that somehow this is the path to blessing. She gave everything she had. Let’s look at the text a little more closely – that’s the overview – verse 41, He was seated there, opposite the treasury. The treasury was in the Court of the Women, it was called, and Jesus had taught there before, John 8 – that’s a great chapter to read what went on when He was teaching there on that occasion …

Relatively speaking, comparatively speaking, her gift was greater, right, ’cause it was a hundred percent. You know, that system can’t be more corrupt; it cannot be more corrupt – devouring widows like that. Scripture is full of commands, by the way, as I told you earlier, to care for the widows. False religion has no interest in that at all – they abuse widows – and they do it in the name of God, they do it in the name of Christ. This is a tragedy, and the Lord will not tolerate it

I hope that has put a different — and truer — perspective on this passage, universally misinterpreted for centuries, which is why I dread this Sunday’s sermon.