The Jerusalem challenges to Jesus are finished. Jesus now presents his own challenge, again in the form of a question that will tax the authoritative teachers of the Law, the scribes. The foundation for the question is the conclusion drawn from the Jewish Scriptures that the Messiah is the Son of David. This belief is based particularly on God’s words to David, that he will have offspring that will rule over Israel forever. This promise, or covenant, indeed grounds much of the Christology of the New Testament Gospels. Even though there is some tension between the claim that Jesus was born in David’s city, Bethlehem, and the general affirmation that he comes from Nazareth, a town with no references to David, generally the belief is that the Messiah will be a child of David. But Jesus offers a text to contradict what is said in 2 Samuel: David recognizes the person seated next to the Lord (Yahweh) to be David’s own lord. But, the argument says, if this Lord is the Messiah, then David is calling the Messiah ’my Lord’ – and this hardly squares with the notion that the Messiah is David’s son. How, Jesus wants to know, can the Messiah be both David’s son and Lord of David? Can one’s Master be one’s son, and vice-versa? There are three things to note here. First, the scribes have been proved to know the Scriptures less well than Jesus. Second, the crowds are pleased with the consternation of the scribes. Third, only the Christian can answer how it is possible that David’s son be David’s Lord; the entire Gospel explains how the son of David becomes that Lord of David seated at the right hand of the Lord Yahweh. Only belief in, and understanding of Jesus can solve the question Jesus poses. Next, Jesus strongly criticizes the scribes for their way of life. Ever against pride, by which is meant willing false self-praise, Jesus has always pleaded that the scribes face up to their true selves. Jesus asks for this honesty so that one can begin the often arduous task imposed on every human being: love God with all one’s heart and love one’s neighbor as one wants to be loved. Jesus points to two major manifestations of false pride: the clamor for public acclaim beyond their due and the unjust grabbing of widows’ homes while claiming to be prayerful before God. Here again, the scribes are particularly singled out for criticism: they do not admit to God and man what they are, and they so interpret the Law that they end up stealing and praying, a terrible contradiction which they think represents the will of God. It is significant that Mark has chosen the scribes to close out the public life of Jesus, a life contested by many authorities, but particularly those who refuse to admit that his is the wisdom which reflects best the will of God, and live a life which contradicts Jesus’ wisdom, which is God’s wisdom. To contradict the falsehoods of this leading group of authoritative specialists, Mark completes the teaching of Jesus in the Temple area by a story about Jesus’ observations at the Temple treasury. This ’treasury’, the place of donations from pious Jews, was within the Court of the Women, outside of the Holy and Holy of Holies. Here, there were tubes placed, tubes that were wide at their tops and narrow at their bottoms. Into the mouths of these tubes people could place their donations. Jesus sees how much each gives, how the rich give much and the widow gives all. Her ’all’ seems nothing to the value of the ’much’ of the rich. And in one sense there is no comparison of value. But what Jesus notices is not precisely value, but how much each person is willing to give God. The widow gave little of value, but it was all the value she had, and so is exceedingly praised because she gave her all to God – which is what Jesus has been asking, not in money, but in repentance and return to God. The heart is what Jesus longs to return to God, not possessions. It is time to end this teaching stay in the Temple area, and time to think of Israel’s future and of ’the Last Things’, says Mark. John Kilgallen, S.J.
Mark 12, 35-44 no. 39 Nov. 28