Sisters and Brothers,
The twelfth chapter of Mark concludes with three brief statements of Jesus that don’t seem to relate to each other. Many things that Jesus said flow from one thought to another, but sometimes we just get glimpses of conversations and teachings. Mark was written from memory of what Jesus said and did… and not all memories fit together like a jig-saw puzzle.
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
The large crowd listened to him with delight.
Jesus is not rejecting the idea that the messiah is a descendent of David. He is stating that the messiah is not less than David: He is not “a chip off the old block.” Though Jesus comes from the large number of David’s descendants, David should not be considered either the father or the master of Jesus. Although the crowd might have thought that Jesus was saying “You don’t have to be a descendant of David to be the messiah,” he appears to saying that someone other than David should be considered the messiah’s father. So, this passage might prepare people to see that the messiah could be the son of God.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Shortly after his encounter with a good Scribe, Jesus tells people to beware of the habits of the Scribes. These “teachers of the law” act as if they are better than other people. They wear impressive and expensive clothing, they are very full of self-importance, and they demand to be treated as if superior. They support their lavish lifestyle by receiving too many gifts from widows and others. Jesus says that they will be punished for this behavior.
Nearly all sins include their own punishment. A person who demands respect is excluded from the friendship and support of the people they step upon. There is an ancient saying that “only a puffed up man can be deflated” and it is true that arrogant behavior usually meets a bad end. More than that, this kind of behavior is seen as sinful in many ways. Humility (the opposite of this kind of behavior) is a virtue that lets people into a trusting and loving relationship, but arrogance and excessive pride destroy unity. These “teachers of the law” who act so superior are sinners like everybody else, so their claims of superiority are hypocritical.
This is not a rejection of respect or open showings of admiration. These men may need to be deflated, but most people need to be lifted up now and then. Just because some people are arrogant does not mean that all people deserve less respect. The most virtuous people often avoid being noticed, but they need to be appreciated as role models. Jesus said, “the greatest among you must become the servant of all,” but that could also be turned around to say, “the servant of all is the greatest among you,”
For the whole history of the church there has been an attempt to help clergy and lay people to maintain their humility and to avoid the arrogance of people like the Scribes. It is an uphill battle, because all sorts of things done to embrace humility and a sense of servanthood have ended up being transformed into words or images of superiority. For instance, all of the basic clothing of clergy was originally chosen to reject status symbols. For example, the black robes and choir robes of some churches were to cover over any signs of the status symbols evident in a person’s clothing. Black robes, like white robes before, were business clothing of teachers and merchants. It is ironic that the people to wear black robes today are graduates, clergy, and judges.
There has also been an attempt to keep humility in the language of church, but the humble names are changed into status symbols themselves. Below is a list of church words with their original meanings:
Deacon – a table server, waiter
Elder- an old person (and presumably wise)
Priest – another word for elder
Minister –slave or servant
Doctor – teacher (the same as rabbi)
Trustee- a person responsible for the property of others
Pastor – shepherd
Nun – a lone woman
Monk – a lone man
Bishop – overseer
Cardinal – a hinge, one who pivots
Sexton – a caretaker of holy things
Pope – Papa
New words and terms are made now and then to escape the elevated status of some of these older words.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
In this brief but important statement, giving your all is always more important than giving in part. No matter if you are wealthy in world goods or spiritual gifts, the greatest gifts are often ignored. This poor widow’s gift lines up with the idea of giving your life to save another. So, a person on the edge of destitution could give a more meaningful gift than a billionaire. It is a pity that we name wings of hospitals and museums by the names of wealthy people and not by the names of people who have made the greatest sacrifices. Of course, it is much easier to give part of your earnings when you have extra money, but we need to appreciate those who show the faith of giving something of their essential gifts. The same idea would apply a person who passed up a lucrative career to be a help to others, or the vows of poverty taken by some religious orders.
A Question to Ponder: “How can we do a better job of lifting up humble people?”