The following are reflections 6-10. See reflections 1-5 here.
Reflection Six: In Mark 12:44b Jesus says: “. . . but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live”. Two things are significant to note here. First, the poor woman has “put in everything she had”. She was putting out of her ‘want’ (Gk. ‘husterēseōs’) means that she was a needy-poor. She was putting ‘everything’ (Gk. ‘panta’) means that her contribution was complete in essence. She was putting ‘whatever she had’ (Gk. ‘hosa eichen’) means that she was contributing her lifelong financial balance. That further means that the woman was making a contribution par excellence. Second, the poor woman was contributing “all she had to live”. Her contribution makes a difference because she put ‘all’ (Gk. ‘holon’). The expression indicates that her contribution to the temple was ‘wholesome’. She was not contributing out of her ‘abundance’ (Gk. ‘perisseuontos’) just as the rich men were doing, but it was done out of her ‘life’ (Gk. ‘ton bion autēs’). That can mean that she starved in her ‘life’ (Gk. ‘bios’) to make this contribution an eventful one. In essence, her contribution was out of ‘pure devotion’, ‘self-denial’, and ‘righteous heart’. In Jesus’ sight, this needy-poor-widow-woman became a model of ‘true discipleship’ in comparison to the self-righteous rich men.
Reflection Seven: Mark 13:1 reports that: “As he [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’” Three things are significant to note here. First, “Jesus came out of the temple”. The ‘coming out’ (Gk. ‘ekporeuomenou’) of Jesus has much to do with what has been happening within the temple. While the rich men were lavishing their money, the needy-poor-widow-woman was striving hard to make her life going. At the same time, the scribes those who interpret the scriptures, though key figures related to the temple, attempt to ‘devour’ the houses of the widows. The woman who put her two coins is portrayed as a symbol of struggling humanity due to the exploitative structures. In this structure, the temple itself was existing as an oppressive structure. That would have made Jesus furious and prompted him to step out of the temple. Second, the disciples who were silent witnesses within the temple now started to speak up. This reflects their slowness in understanding the real human issues and eagerness about the external aspects like the splendour of the temple. Third, one of the representatives of the disciples is amazed of the marvellous building. He says, “what large stones” (Gk. ‘potapoi lithoi’) and “what large buildings” (Gk. ‘potapai oikodomai’). His exclamation reflects his emphasis that is entirely different from that of Jesus. In essence, a starving woman within a splenderous temple, amidst of rich men, is a ‘double irony’. While the disciples were attracted to one extreme (i.e., the splendour of the temple), Jesus is able to visualize both the extremes such as the situation of the ‘needy-poor-widow-woman’ and the status of the ‘rich men’/‘splendorous temple’.
Reflection Eight: Mark 13:2 says: “Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down’”. Three things are significant to note here. First, Jesus asks a rhetorical question to the disciple: “Do you see these great buildings?” The Greek word used for seeing is ‘blepeis’, that is derived from ‘blepō’. ‘Blepō’ means ‘to have a faculty of sight’, ‘to see’, ‘to look’, ‘to beware of’, ‘to cast a look on’, etc. Jesus’ question to the disciple is a critique toward his very activity of ‘seeing’. The disciple was not able to see the life struggles of the woman inside the temple; but he is able to see the splendour of the temple. Jesus does not appreciate such a partial and peripheral sight. Second, Jesus says: “Not one stone will be left here upon another”. Jerusalem temple was built upon ‘large stones’ (Gk. ‘potapoi lithoi’). Here Jesus utters a prophetical statement. He emphasises the fact that a temple that does not consider the matters of the poor cannot stand. While the rich men with their large sums and the scribes who ‘devour’ the houses of the widows are reckoned as esteemed personnel, the needy-poor-widow-woman stands out as a victim of an oppressive system. Third, Jesus says: “all will be thrown down”. The “large buildings” (Gk. ‘potapai oikodomai’) of the temple will be ‘overthrown’ (Gk. ‘kataluthō’). That means, in a context in which the worshipper(s) do not understand each other, the worship itself does not make sense. In a context in which the temple does not identify with the poor and oppressed, the temple itself does not make sense.
Reflection Nine: The story of the woman with two coins brings to the fore several contrasts between the ‘needy people’ and the ‘affluent people’. The woman was needy on several grounds. She would have been a ‘devoured’ person (12:40). The life situation of the woman is in several ways reminiscence to the situation of the woman of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16). The woman of Zarephath was telling Elijah: “. . . I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar . . . we may eat it, and die” (1 Kings 17:12). The woman of Mark 12:41-44 has only two options left for her: first, she can spend her whole possession, i.e., the two coins, on a meal as her last wish; and second, as she does here, she can put the money into the temple-receptacle and leave herself into the hands of God. It seems that she had chosen the second option. She contributes the money out of her ‘life’ (Gk. ‘bios’). After putting the money into the receptacle, she remained as a penniless woman. She remained one among the most needy people in the world. Jesus was able to recognize her and her ‘needy’ situation. On the other side, the rich people were spending their money lavishly within and outside the temple. While the contribution of the men is portrayed as “large sums”, the woman’s contribution is mentioned as “two small copper coins”. As it is a story of “need” over against “affluence”, the characters remain symbolic. While ‘need’ is introduced as the protagonist of the story, ‘affluence’ is introduced as the antagonist. While the world considers the ‘affluent men’ as the blessed, Jesus considers the ‘needy woman’ as a person of worth and honor.
Reflection Ten: The story of the woman in Mark 12:38-13:2 is built upon ironies, contrasts, suspenses and surprises. The following three things are important to note. First, the story introduces a contrast between ‘men’ and ‘women’ of the First Century male-centered context. A context in which scribal/Rabbinic interpretations never considered women in equal terms with men, Jesus’ social transformative role is significant to note. In that sense, Jesus was gathering enemity toward him from the mainstream social class of his day. Second, it also brings a contrast between ‘widowed women’ and her ‘men’ counterparts. As a ‘widowed woman’, in the social set up, this lady was uncared, neglected, and even sexually targetted. The men stand here as symbols of an oppressive and imbalanced social system. Third, it introduces another contrast between the ‘poor’ and the ‘rich’. The unjust social, religious, and political systems of the First Century context made this woman penniless and that even led her to the verge of inferiority complex, shame, and poverty. The rich became more richer and the poor became more poorer. This is also true with the contemporary Indian social realities. In the globalized Indian context, the polarity between the rich and the poor became more visible and wider than ever before. The story of the needy-poor-widow-woman throws light to the unjust Indian social system. It gives a clarion call for engaged mission, eradication of poverty, upliftment of women’s status, and empowerment of the weaker sections of the society. [will be continued . . . Reflections 11-14]
Reflections by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India