Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mark 12:38-44: The Gospel Lectionary Passage for Sunday, November 8, 2009

This is my own translation of the lectionary gospel lesson for Sunday. Please make any comments concerning the passage you want. Together, let's discuss the Word of God:


38And in his teaching, he said, "Look out for the scribes who want to go around in long robes and to get greetings in marketplace 39and to have the first seat in the synagogues and the first couch at the banquets, 40those who devour the houses of widows and for show, have long prayers. They will receive more abundant judgement."
41And he sat down opposite the contribution boxes and began to watch how the crowd put copper coins in the contribution box. And many rich people put in many [coins]. 42And one widow who was poor put in two small coins, which were worth a quarter of a copper coin. 43And he called to his disciples and said to them, "Amen I say to you, that poor widow put in more than all those who put [money] into the contribution box. 44For they all from out of their surplus put in [money], but she from her poverty put in everything she had – her whole livelihood."


  1. The coming Gospel lesson has to do with Jesus condemnation of the Scribes, the Poor Widow, and I like to attach also the first two verses of the Gospel for next Lord's Day (13:1-2).

    The thing that struck me about this passage was the contrast between the widow and the Scribes and wealthy people. The Gospel writer who put these selections together (whether or not the actually occurred together) was an artist.

    I have been painting off and on for years, and I have drawn many pictures even as a child. In my adult years I have sold several on mission, had one painting raffled off for charity and this is my greatest pride: I actually had one work stolen! When I thought about the contrast in this lesson, I thought immediately of the way an artist uses contrast to create a painting. I asked myself. How would I paint this scene?

    The artist has many types of contrast at his / her disposal: value contrast (light & dark), line contrast, focus contrast, hue (color) contrast, intensity (pure vs. muddy color), etc.

    Were I to paint this scene I would use the widow as my focal point -- just off center to the right and below center using a classic
    composition arrangement with horizontal and vertical axes intersecting below center and to the right. There would be a vertical beam of light (as if from heaven) shining down on the poor widow as she puts her small copper coin into the box. Behind the woman in the
    darkness would be the rich in their finery crowding in to make their donations. To the left also would be a group of scribes, not even trying to put in a gift, but wrapped up in their own concerns. There would be several types of contrast at play: darkness, focus, and color. Artists have known for centuries that to create depth and contrast one paints a bright figure or spot and surrounds it with
    darker colors (browns, purples, blues and (black). The eye is attracted to the light and the darkness creates the contrast. Color
    can also be used to create the feeling of heat or cold. The cool colors such as blues and purples might be used for the background
    shadow area to create the effect of a cold darkness. "And cast the wicked servant into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The figures of the wealthy would be slightly out of focus as would be the Scribes. Behind them would be the wash depicting the great walls of the temple -- darker and with much less detail. More contrast that forces the eye from the edges of the painting to the centerpiece.

    Another technique I would use is that of "painting outside the lines." Instead of using a fine black line to depict the widow's
    face, I would allow the darkness behind to define her profile. I once saw this technique used in a painting of a vase of flowers. The
    flowers were not carefully drawn, but created out of the contrasting dark background. This technique causes me to reflect that a persons
    character can be seen most clearly when contrasted with the darkness in which one lives. The beauty and purity of the Christian's character is seen in stark relief against the depravity and greed of the culture in which we live.

    I don't know about you, but as for me, in spite of frozen pension and social security I have tried to increase what I have been giving this year, not to the institutional church(es) to which I give, but to the poor and hungry. Some of this has been in the form of contributions to PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance) and to the Presbyterian
    Hunger program. There is much desperation out there. Millions of people are starving while I / we enjoy plenty.

    The widow, whose home might have been taken by one of these very Scribes in the temple that day, comes not to be fed, but to give. Someone has to care enough to feed her too.

  2. There are a few things that are interesting in the passage. First, Jesus is talking about the desire of the scribes, what they "want," not what they like. Second, Jesus is watching "how" people put money in the box. Third, the kind of poverty faced by the widow is the most extreme, and the coins she puts in the box are the smallest used. Fourth, she puts in two, not one. Fifth, the idea of abundance is found in the judgement that the scribes will face and the money the rich have.

    These are just a few observations. I haven't drawn any conclusions...yet.