Kenneth W. Yates
In Mark 8:22–10:52, the reader finds a long section that deals with the topic of discipleship. In it, the Lord teaches the disciples about the cost of following Him. It begins and ends with the Lord healing a blind man. The disciples are blind to these truths, and these two blind men serve as illustrations of the truths they need to see.1
The second blind man is Bartimaeus. He is an important figure in the Gospel of Mark, especially in this discipleship section. He becomes the example for the original twelve disciples as well as the reader of Mark to emulate.2 It is fitting that his healing is the close of the section.
Beginning in Mark 11, there is a dramatic shift in themes. From Mark 11–13, Jesus, after His entry into Jerusalem, conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders. They have decided to kill Him (11:18; 12:12). The Lord speaks of the coming judgment upon the nation, the temple, and the religious leaders as a result of their rejection of Him.
D. B. Sloan says this section on conflict and judgment can be diagrammed in a chiastic structure:
A Jesus curses a fig tree and cleanses the temple as a sign of judgment (11:12-26).
B The religious leaders question Jesus’ authority (11:27–33), and Jesus tells a parable condemning the religious leaders (12:1-12).
C The religious leaders test Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture (12:13-34).
C’ Jesus exposes the scribes’ misinterpretation of Scripture (12:35-37).
B’ Jesus condemns the scribes (12:38-40) and commends the widow who loves God with all she has (12:41-44).
A’ Jesus prophesies the destruction of the temple and uses a fig tree for a lesson (13:1-37).3
This section, then, begins and ends with the idea of the judgment of the Jewish leaders and the temple (11:12-20; 13:2). In between, the religious leaders ask Jesus a number of questions. As Sloan’s chiasm suggests, they challenge the authority of Christ and His ability to interpret the Scriptures.4 The first question asked by the leaders specifically challenges His authority (11:28).
With each question, Jesus leaves His enemies speechless. He answers each question wisely, with one of the religious leaders himself acknowledging this fact (12:28, 32). Mark concludes that at the end of the questions, nobody dared ask Him any more questions (12:34). Though fiercely opposed, the Lord establishes His role as a teacher sent from and whose authority comes from God.5
Chapter 12 ends with the Lord strongly rebuking the religious leaders (12:38-40), including a statement about their coming judgment. This is immediately followed by the well known story about a poor widow (vv 41-44). The account of the widow, as this article will show, is closely connected with Jesus’ denunciation of the religious leaders. Since chap. 13 is the Olivet Discourse and is given to the disciples, one could say that the rebuke of the leaders and the scene with the poor widow form the conclusion to Christ’s conflict with the religious leaders in chaps. 11–12.
This is especially true when one considers the location of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders. This opposition begins in the temple (11:27), and Mark presents the questions by the religious leaders as occurring in the same location. Jesus sees the widow in the temple and comments on her actions. After these comments, He leaves the temple, never to return.
The account of the poor widow, then, is intimately connected with judgment on the nation. What is that connection? In addition, in Mark 11–12, has Mark left the theme of discipleship completely and is only dealing with opposition to the Lord and judgment on the nation, or are there discipleship truths being taught in this section as well?
Finally, does the poor widow of Mark 12:41-44 function in a manner similar to Bartimaeus in 10:46-52? In other words, is she an example or illustration of the truths taught in Mark 11–12? This article will attempt to answer these questions.
II. THE IMMEDIATE CONNECTION (MARK 12:38-40)
After the various religious leaders ask Jesus a series of questions (11:27–12:34), Jesus asks them a question (12:35-37). This inquiry from the Lord answers the original question from the religious leaders (11:27-28).
Jesus has now shown that He accurately interprets the Scriptures. With the authority He has from God, He has pronounced judgment on the nation and its temple. But the religious leaders have rejected Him and His message. This leads to a scathing rebuke of these leaders by Jesus (12:38-40).
A. The Sins of the Religious Leaders
The Lord lists several sins that the leaders are guilty of. Not only do they commit these sins, they take pleasure (thelō) in them.6 The KJV translation of the Bible translates the word with “love,” and the NKJV gives the same sense. This seems like a good translation and description of their attitude towards their sins:
Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation (emphasis added).
The “best seats” in the synagogues probably refer to seats next to the place where the Scriptures were. They would have been in front of the congregation. Those chosen to sit in these seats could be seen by everyone. The implication is that the person sitting in such a seat would be a person of honor.
The same could be said about the best seats at a feast (Luke 14:7-8). It is similar to the modern-day phrase, “a seat at the head table.” The person holding the feast would invite people of honor to sit with him. William Lane suggests it would have been an honor to have such a scribe attend your feast.7
Here in the West, we think of the marketplace simply as a place of merchandise. It is a place where things are bought and sold. But in the first century, and in this context, we should think of it as a place where discussions take place as well. As in the synagogues, the scribes wanted to be recognized as men of honor and importance with the various titles they wanted people to call them.
It may be that the robes the scribes wore set them apart from other people as well. They were white, whereas common people wore robes with colors.8 It could be that Jesus also has in mind robes that scribes would wear on special occasions.
These scribes also loved to make long prayers. But they did so “for a pretense” (prophasis). BDAG says that in Mark 12:40 prophasis refers to prayers made “for appearance sake.”9 Their motive was not to communicate with God.
In light of the other sins Jesus lists, their motive was clearly to draw attention to themselves. They want to appear religious and important in the eyes of others. Their respectful greetings, their places of honor, their clothing, and their prayers all had this purpose. That is why they loved to engage in such activities.
Geoffrey Smith rightly points out that the rebuke by the Lord in these actions of the scribes “is primarily concerned with their preoccupation with the mere appearance of godliness.” The practice of their faith only involves “religious displays.”10
The Lord had just spoken to another scribe about the greatest commandment in the Law (12:28-34). Jesus told him that the greatest commandment is to love God with one’s whole being and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. That scribe says that Jesus has spoken the truth.
Clearly, Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes indicates that the scribes neither loved God nor their neighbor. They did not love but were concerned with outward religiosity. Instead of loving God and pointing people to Him, they pointed people to themselves. Instead of loving others, they loved to appear religious before others.
B. Their Hypocrisy
The Lord makes it clear that the scribes are not what they appear to be. By definition, they were hypocrites. Even though Jesus lists a number of sins that point to their hypocrisy, Smith rightly indicates that there is one sin that stands out:
Jesus singles out one particular sinister activity of the scribes that reveals the horrendous nature of their hypocrisy: They devour widows’ houses, covering up their crimes with still more superficial piety—their long prayers.11
It is not known what the Lord means when He said “devour” the homes of widows. Perhaps the scribes charged excessive legal fees which hit the poor particularly hard. In such a case, a home may have been a pledge for debts which could not be paid. They may have been trustees of estates and mismanaged them to their own financial advantage. It is also possible that they promoted their religion at the temple to guilt people into giving beyond their means. This would be appealing to the pious poor. The phrase could also have a general meaning and imply that they exploited the hospitality provided by widows.12
Brooks points out that scribes were not allowed to receive payment for their teaching. If they were not secularly employed, they were dependent upon gifts. In such a situation they appeared holy in order to obtain such gifts, including from naïve widows. This could also explain the association of praying long prayers with devouring the homes of widows. They may have “expected” generous gifts from widows after praying for them.13 By appearing religious, they would have gained the trust of these widows.14
Even though we do not know the exact details of the phrase, it almost certainly means more than taking advantage of the hospitality of widows. The Greek word for “devour” suggests the idea of consuming something completely. It is used to describe what happens to seeds when they are eaten by birds (Luke 8:5). The prodigal son “devoured” his father’s estate (Luke 15:30). When he did so, the son was left completely destitute. The word is also used to describe something being burned up by fire (Rev 11:5; 20:9). The point here in Mark 12 is that the actions of the scribes leave these widows devoured of their financial means. They are practically penniless.15 This certainly finds support in Jesus’ strong denunciation of the scribes. Their sin is a serious one with catastrophic consequences for the widows in question.
The seriousness of their sin in this regard is also seen in Jesus’ saying they will receive a “greater condemnation” (v 40). This indicates that all, including unbelievers, will be judged by their works. While bad works do not send a person to the lake of fire, there will be degrees of eternal judgment (Heb 6:2; Rev 20:12-13). The scribes will receive a worse eternal judgment because they were experts in the Law and teachers of it. They claimed to be the men to whom the Jews should go in order to draw near to God. Instead, they wanted to draw people to themselves. They wanted for themselves the honor due God. As religious leaders, they will be held to a higher standard.16
If these scribes knew the Lord and the Law the way they presented themselves as knowing, they would have understood that they were to love their neighbor (vv 29-31). These widows were such neighbors. Their long prayers were simply another means by which they took advantage of their neighbor.
The Lord’s denunciation of the scribes in Mark 12:38-40 paves the way for the account of the widow with her two mites in vv 41-44. Jesus mentions in v 40 how the scribes make widows financially destitute. The reader meets such a widow in the next verses. One writer says that the widow with her two mites is a representative of “the wreckage left behind by the greediness of the scribes.”17
A severe judgment is coming upon the scribes. Their hypocritical sins make such judgment well deserved.
But Mark 11–12 shows that judgment is also coming upon the temple. The rejection of Christ by the religious leaders shows this judgment is deserved as well. It will be shown that the poor widow is proof of the coming judgment on both the temple and its leaders.
But the widow is also an example for believers who read Mark’s Gospel.
III. THE WIDOW AS LIVING PROOF
The well known account of the widow with her two mites comes immediately after the Lord’s strong rebuke of the scribes. The words to the scribes are the last public teachings of Jesus to the nation of Israel. His words were directed to a general group of people (“them,” v 38) in the temple. He specifically addresses the disciples (v 43) as He teaches them about this widow. Clearly, there is significance in the example of this woman for them. In addition, His rebuke of the scribes contains truths they need to understand as well.
A. The Actions of the Widow
The account of the poor widow is not only connected with the previous section by with the word “widow.” The widow is clearly seen as a contrast with the scribes. The religious leaders were men. She is a woman. They desire attention. She does not want to be noticed. They are rich. She is poor. They are greedy, while she is extremely generous. They are experts in the Law, while she is not. Even though that is the case, as will be seen, they do not follow the Law. She does.
Another connection is that Jesus has just mentioned the hypocritical prayers of the scribes, which is intimately connected with the way they rob widows. We see this woman’s sacrificial giving in this section. Did the long prayers of the scribes encourage her to give all that she had? The hypocrisy of the scribes was such that they convinced the poor to give for their benefit by their attention-seeking religious activities. They knew that people who wanted to please God, like this widow, would be encouraged to give to the temple when they saw the supposed devotion of the scribes. These were men who, in the mind of the widow, merited her support.
After His rebuke of the scribes, Mark tells the readers that Jesus “sat opposite the treasury.” The Jewish Mishnah says that there were thirteen receptacles into which the people could place money.18 These receptacles would have been located in the Court of the Women (cf. John 8:20), which explains the presence of this widow.
The Mishnah says these were called “trumpet chests,” probably because they were shaped like trumpets. Different kinds of offerings could be placed into them. They could receive the temple tax, which was an obligation for all men. But they could also accept freewill offerings, which were voluntary.19 Such offerings would include money given to help the poor.
These “trumpets” were in a very public place. Those who gave were easily observed, as indicated by Jesus seeing all those who gave. The verb “saw” (v 41) is in the imperfect tense, which suggests a period of time that Jesus was watching people give. France suggests this place in the temple may have been a tourist attraction.20 If so, this would have been an excellent place to go if a person wanted to give in order to appear religious.
N. G. Piotrowski suggests that this tourist trap was the way in which the religious leaders robbed widows (v 40). This is, in part, what made the temple a den of thieves (11:17).21 The extent of the hypocrisy of the religious leaders is seen in that even in the act of people giving to the Lord, they are robbing the flock.
The woman does not want to stand out. One could imagine that she was embarrassed by such a small gift. She is the exact opposite of the scribes (vv 38-40). They are proud, while she is humble. In addition, no doubt, the many rich who placed their money into the receptacles also wanted to stand out. If a rich person put in many coins, the sound of such an offering would have been noticeable. The irony is, of course, that she is the one who catches the attention of the Lord. The scribes wanted to appear religious. But it is this widow whose actions are truly religious.
After mentioning that Jesus saw the giving of many rich donors, Mark introduces the poor widow (v 42). She gave two mites. The Greek word lepta indicates that these two coins were almost worthless. Each was a small copper coin, and each was worth “1/128 of a denarius.”22 It would have taken the average worker less than ten minutes to earn what this woman offers to the temple. This coin was the coin with the least value used in Israel at this time. We see the poverty of this woman in the fact that this meager amount was all the money she had (v 44).
Her attitude is clearly seen in the fact that she gave two coins. After deciding to give, she could easily rationalize giving only one. That would have been half of her financial worth. But she gave all she had. The Greek uses more picturesque words for the extent of her giving. She gave “her whole life” (holon ton bion autēs).23
B. A Lesson for the Disciples
The disciples, like everyone else in the Court of Women, would not have taken notice of this woman. But Jesus calls the disciples to Himself to point out what this woman has done (v 43). The verb for “calling” the disciples was used in 10:42. In that case, Jesus wants to teach them vital truths. The phrase “assuredly I say to you” (amēn legō humin) occurs fourteen times in Mark (3:28; 6:11; 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25; 14:30). The vast majority are found in the last half of the book. Jesus uses it with His disciples to call attention to things He wants His disciples to understand.24
The same is true here. The disciples have shown that, in their opinion, the rich are more likely to please God (Mark 10:25-26). Jesus clearly wants to use this woman to correct their understanding of what was happening in the treasury. Once again we see the difference between the scribes and this woman. The scribes would call attention to their outward acts of religiosity. Jesus had to point out what this woman was doing.
As was the case with the rich man in Mark 10:17-29, Jesus teaches the disciples through this woman. He points out that this woman gave more than all the rich people who gave in the temple that day. Her giving sprang from poverty and was costly. Their giving cost them very little. Indeed, they themselves benefited from this giving by drawing attention to themselves.
In the context of Mark, this woman teaches the disciples two related things. The first is that the judgment that is coming upon Israel is deserved. The second is that she is an outstanding example of what a disciple is.
IV. JUDGMENT IS DESERVED
The account of the widow and her sacrificial gift occurs at the end of the section with a heavy emphasis on judgment. As noted above, immediately before this account, Jesus gives a strong rebuke towards the scribes. In that rebuke He says the religious leaders will receive a greater condemnation.
But the theme of judgment on the leaders has dominated a much longer section in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus showed His disapproval of the religious establishment when He cleaned out the temple (11:15-19). The cursing and destruction of the fig tree (11:12-14, 20) serve as a graphic illustration of the coming destruction of the temple. The Lord then gives a parable about judgment on the nation and especially the religious leaders. The leaders themselves know that Jesus spoke the parable against them (12:1-12). Immediately after the account of the widow, Jesus specifically says the temple would be destroyed (13:2).
Jesus’ strong denunciation of the scribes (vv 38-40) indicates that the judgment coming upon them is deserved. The fact that the religious leaders are thieves (11:17), and especially towards the poor, points to this woman. In light of what the OT teaches about judgment, it is significant that she is a widow. In the actions of the religious leaders, Jesus sees things that are crying out for judgment.
If the reader of Mark looks at chaps. 11–12 as a unit, he will observe that Jesus speaks of judgment. The two accounts of Jesus looking around in the temple form an inclusio. He looks around before He cleanses the temple (11:11). He looks around at the giving occurring in the temple (12:41). The whole section is speaking of a coming deserved judgment.
The religious leaders mistreated poor widows (v 40). They should have protected these vulnerable women. The scribes were experts in the Old Testament, and Moses wrote that widows and the poor were to be protected (Exod 22:22-24). It was against the Law to mistreat them. If a widow was afflicted, it was her right to appeal to God for relief.25 In the Exodus passage, it says that God will judge those who mistreat such people. God will hear the cry for justice from the poor and the widow.
Other verses in the OT contain the same theme. Deuteronomy 10:18 says that God will bring justice for the afflicted poor and widows. Deuteronomy 27:19 pronounces a curse on those who mistreat widows. The Israelites were commanded to take care of their needs (Deut 14:29).26
This OT teaching on poor widows helps the reader understand the reason for the stark contrast between the scribes in vv 38-40 and the widow in vv 41-44. The actions of the scribes were criminal in that they were against the Law. The widow in the temple is an illustration of the spiritual condition of the nation as a whole. This woman is a clear indication that the nation and her leaders have violated God’s covenant. Judgment is richly deserved.27
This woman’s state is directly connected with the actions of the leaders themselves. They have robbed her. They were supposed to teach the Law. Instead, they hypocritically appeared to be godly men so they could afflict the poor.
Smith says that the poor widow occurs at the end of the section on coming judgment as an “important piece of evidence.” God’s case against Israel is “complete.”28 Of course, the opposition of the leaders against Jesus the Messiah makes it even more clear that God’s judgment is coming upon the nation.
When Jesus looked around the temple, both in 11:11 and 12:41, this was part of what He saw. Piotrowski points out that this situation in the nation and among the leaders was not a momentary lapse into sin. The leaders had long accepted this way of treating their fellow Jews. They had used the money given in the temple to provide loans. When the people could not repay, they seized their land. He suggests that this is the meaning of devouring the homes of widows.29 If this is the case, even the two mites of this woman would be added to the financial resources of the leaders to afflict the poor.
In any case, this woman is a stinging rebuke against the rich, especially the rich religious leaders. She is also an illustration: not only does her sacrificial giving serve as a contrast to the greediness of the rich, but her circumstances cry out against the religious leaders who have taken advantage of her. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, cursing of the fig tree, and parable against the religious leaders all spoke of a coming judgment. The widow in the temple that day was exhibit number one that this judgment was deserved. After pointing her out to the disciples and commending her, Jesus leaves the temple, never to return. Judgment on that place and its leaders was certain.
But the disciples could also learn a great deal from this woman.
V. EXAMPLE OF DISCIPLESHIP
While the theme of judgment plays a dominant role in Mark 11–12, there are also discipleship truths taught in these chapters. Discipleship must be kept separate from receiving eternal life. Receiving eternal life is free and is obtained by faith alone. Discipleship involves works and is costly. While Mark 8:22–10:52 is often called the discipleship section of Mark, Jesus is continuing to teach the disciples while being opposed by the religious leaders.
This is in keeping with the original audience of Mark. There is general agreement, based in part upon early Christian writers, that the book was written to Christians in Rome who were living in a hostile environment. As a result, the main purpose was not to convert unbelievers to Christianity. Instead, it was to teach the readers how they should live after believing. Grassmick writes:
The Christians in Rome had already heard and believed the good news of God’s saving power (Rom. 1:8) but they needed to hear it again with a new emphasis to catch afresh its implications for their lives in a dissolute and often hostile environment. They needed to understand the nature of discipleship—what it meant to follow Jesus—in light of who Jesus is and what He had done and would keep doing for them.30
If this is the case, it would not be surprising to find discipleship truth even in a long section on judgment and opposition. In fact, the original readers could learn from the example of the Lord as He Himself faced difficulties and rejection from the religious leaders.
Even though Jesus is tested by the religious leaders with questions in Mark 11–12, it is clear that He is teaching the disciples in the midst of this opposition. As the opposition begins, He calls the disciples together and tells them to believe in God and be men of prayer. As disciples they will face obstacles, but God can overcome any obstacle they face if they rely on Him (11:22-25). He will meet their needs. These are all discipleship truths.
As has already been seen, the section ends with Jesus pointing out to the disciples the actions of the poor widow in the temple (12:43). This clearly suggests He wants them to learn from her example.
B. Discipleship Truths in Mark 11–12
The questions by the religious leaders and Jesus’ responses provide lessons for any disciple of Christ. When they ask Him by what authority He cleared out the temple, the Lord says He got His authority from the same place John the Baptist received his authority (11:28-33). These religious leaders have already determined to kill Jesus (11:18). The reader knows what happened to John (Mark 6:14-29). This prefigures the death of Christ. The disciple can expect the opposition of the world. This is the reason disciples need to be men and women of prayer and to trust in God.
In all the questions by the religious leaders, Jesus gives answers related to discipleship. The Pharisees and Herodians ask Him if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The Lord answers that one should give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. However, he should also give to God what belongs to God (12:13-17). Caesar’s image is on the denarius with which the Jews paid the tax. It belonged to him. But the image of God remains in men and women. They owe Him their ultimate allegiance.
The Sadducees ask Jesus a question about the resurrection. They use a hypothetical case involving Levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-6) to suggest that the idea of a physical resurrection cannot be true. Jesus responds from the account of the burning bush in Exodus 3 that the character of God demands such a resurrection (12:18-27).
While the main point in these verses is that there will be a physical resurrection, discipleship truths are present as well. The seven brothers involved in this case of Levirate marriage are giving to God what is due Him (12:17). God had commanded them to raise up, with the surviving widow, children for a brother who dies without children. Obedience to this command would have involved a great cost to the surviving brothers, as any children produced would have reduced the inheritance of the brothers. The OT gives examples of the financial difficulties involved in obeying this command by the Lord. Some simply refused to do so (Gen 38:9; Ruth 4:4-6).
These brothers also served the widow involved. Without a husband or any children, she was in dire straits. They took on the responsibility of her care.
Implied in the question of the Sadducees is that obedience to the commands of God are not important. These bodies will not be raised. The sacrifices of these seven brothers were foolish.
When Jesus refers to the burning bush, He is referring to God’s statement that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had made a covenant with them.31 Included in this covenant was a physical resurrection. But this covenant involved more. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were obedient men, like the brothers in the example. The covenant God made with them not only required a physical resurrection, it demanded rewards in that resurrection. These men made great sacrifices to obey the Lord. As a result, they will be greatly rewarded in the kingdom.32
In Hebrews 11, the author talks of these three men as well (Heb 11:8-10, 17-21). They all lived lives of faith in order to receive a reward—an inheritance—in the life to come (Heb 11:6, 35).33
We can conclude that when Jesus tells the Sadducees that Exod 3:6 proves there will be a resurrection of the dead, part of the reason deals with rewards in the world to come. God has promised to reward His children who walk in obedience to Him. His character demands He raise them from the dead to reward the works they have done as a result of His commandments.
The last question a religious leader asked the Lord is found in 12:28. It concerns the greatest commandment in the OT Law. Jesus responds that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole being. A second commandment is like it. It is to love your neighbor as yourself. Clearly these commandments deal with discipleship truth. The Apostle John applies these commandments to Christians. If we desire to have fellowship with God, we must love Him and others (1 John 4:20-21).34
C. The Widow’s Example
After all these questions and answers, Mark ends this section with the example of the poor widow in the temple. Based upon what Jesus says to the religious leaders in the temple, this woman comes off in a very positive light.
When the Lord says that His authority comes from the same place as John the Baptist’s authority, we are reminded that God’s people will experience difficulties if they walk in obedience. This woman understands this principle. She has also been mistreated by the religious elite. She also lives in extreme poverty. But she desires to obey God and acts upon that desire.
With the withering of the fig tree, Jesus speaks of the need to believe in God when one faces obstacles. This woman faces the obstacles of poverty, opposition from those who should be concerned for her, and the lack of future prospects. But she has extreme faith in God as is shown by her giving all her life to His work. She has faith that He will meet her needs.
On the issue of taxes, the Lord had said to give God what is due Him. Financially speaking, it would not be possible to find a person who gave more to God. Jesus Himself says she gave more than all the other people in the temple that day (12:43).
When one reads the question about the resurrection and the Lord’s response, this woman once again comes across in a good light. Even though it is difficult, she obeys God. We can assume that she believed God would reward her faithfulness because of His character and promises. He had made a covenant with the Jewish people, and she was part of the Jewish nation.
Jesus’ response that His followers should love God with all their being and their neighbor as themselves also finds an illustration in this woman. The money given in the temple was for the poor, that is, for others. She did not want to be noticed, and so she clearly gave out of love for God. In her actions, she literally loved Him with all her life.
Smith points out that this woman is not only an example of the discipleship truths taught in Mark 11–12. He speculates that the disciples also remembered what the Lord said about counting the cost and taking up their crosses to follow Him (8:34-38). He had also told them to deny themselves and serve others (10:42-45).35
A similar thing occurred when the disciples argued about who would be in positions of honor in the kingdom. The Lord pointed out that their actions illustrate how the world operates. Greatness in His kingdom will come from being the last and the one who is a slave of others (10:35-45).
The widow is again an excellent illustration of these truths. The scribes want to be noticed. They want positions of honor at feasts and in the synagogues. They want to rob others and become richer. They want to be served. The woman is the exact opposite. She does not want recognition. She has no hope of seats of honor in this world. She does not rob others but gives and serves others with what she has. She becomes even poorer. She is one who knows the cost of obeying the Lord, and she has counted those costs. She is a disciple of the things Jesus teaches.36
At the conclusion of Mark 10 and his long discussion on discipleship, Mark uses Bartimaeus as an illustration for the disciples of the Lord. Bartimaeus is an illustration of their blindness towards the cost of discipleship. He is also an example: Bartimaeus leaves his important coat behind and follows Jesus on the difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross.37
This article has argued that the poor widow of Mark 12:41-44 functions in a similar fashion. She is an illustration and an example. She is an illustration in that she shows that judgment is coming upon the nation. The rebuke of the religious leaders, especially in 12:38-40, points to that coming judgment. Bartimaeus is a foil for the disciples. The woman is a foil for the religious leaders. Of all the people in the temple that day, including the rich and religious leaders, she is the one who worships the Lord.38 The religious leaders only pretended to adore God.
The Lord had told the disciples to trust in God in view of this coming judgment (11:22-24). With that judgment, difficult times were ahead. It would even involve the death of the Lord. But God would meet their needs. The woman at the end of the section demonstrates this faith.
Like Bartimaeus, then, this woman is an example for the disciples. He had left behind his valuable garment. Peter says the disciples left behind everything to follow Christ (10:21). She gives up everything to obey the Lord.39 This is what the Lord requires of those who would follow Him (8:34-38).
The poor widow in the temple that day is not even named. One could conclude that she is a minor character in the Gospel of Mark. But she is a great example for any believing reader of Mark who desires to follow the Lord in discipleship. This woman of faith has a wholehearted devotion to God. She gives God all she owns. It does not escape the notice and praise of the Lord.40 She is an important “minor” character. For believers who want to be great in the kingdom, she is someone to be imitated.
1 Kenneth Yates, “The Healing of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Part 1,” JOTGES 29 (2016): 3-18.
2 Kenneth Yates, “The Healing of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Part 2,” JOTGES 29 (2016): 3-15.
3 D. B. Sloan, “God of Abraham, God of the Living: Jesus’ Use of Exodus 3:6 in Mark 12:26-27,” The Westminster Theological Journal 74 (2012): 86–88.
5 D. C. Ortlund, “Mark’s Emphasis on Jesus’s Teaching, Part 1: Exploring a Neglected Motif,” Bibliotheca Sacra 174 (2017): 337.
6 “thelō,” Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 448.
7 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 440.
9 BDAG, s.v. “prophasis,” 889.
10 Geoffrey Smith, “A Closer Look at the Widow’s Offering: Mark 12:41-44, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40 (1997): 28.
12 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 491.
13 J. A. Brooks, Mark (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 202.
14 Perhaps we see a modern day equivalent when preachers on television become rich with specially crafted appeals for money. Their slick appeals come from people who claim to be especially close to God. At least some of their wealth comes from poor donors who give, thinking they are donating to such godly men. In such instances, the poor can hardly afford to give and are taken advantage of.
15 Smith, “A Closer Look,” 28-29.
16 The same is true for believers. Our works will determine our rewards in the kingdom of God. But believing teachers of the Word of God will be judged with a harsher judgment in this regard (Jas 3:1).
17 Smith, “A Closer Look,” 29-30.
18 Mishnah, Shekalim, 6:5.
19 France, Mark, 489.
21 N. G. Piotrowski, “‘Whatever You Ask’ for the Missionary Purposes of the Eschatological Temple: Quotations and Typology in Mark 11–12,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 21 (2017): 105.
22 BDAG, s.v. “leptos,” 592.
23 E. S. Malbon, “The Jewish Leaders in the Gospel of Mark: A Literary Study of Marcan Characterization,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 270.
24 Ortlund, “Mark’s Emphasis on Jesus’s Teaching,” 341-42.
25 Smith, “A Closer Look,” 32-33.
27 Ibid., 32.
29 Piotrowski, “Whatever You Ask,” 103.
30 John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament Edition. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 99-101.
31 Lane, Mark, 430. Lane points out that Jesus is saying more than simply these three men were with the Lord even though they were dead. He had made a covenant with these men that involved future things.
32 Zane C. Hodges, The Free Grace Primer (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2018), 364-65.
33 Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of the Servant Kings (Monument, CO: Paniym Group, Inc., 2012), 77, 125-26 and Kenneth Yates, Hebrews: Partners with Christ (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2018), 178-79, 181-82.
34 Once again, like discipleship, being in fellowship with God is not the same as receiving eternal life or being eternally saved. Being in fellowship with God involves obeying Him. This fellowship/obedience will result in rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 John 2:28). See Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), 124, 209-211.
35 Smith, “A Closer Look,” 31.
36 Whether she is a believer is not the point. Mark uses this woman as an illustration of what the attitudes and actions of His followers should be.
37 Yates, “Bartimaeus,” 14-15.
38 John R. Donahue, “A Neglected Factor in the Theology of Mark,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 101 (1982): 583.
39 R. A. Culpepper, “Mark 10:50: Why Mention the Garment?,” Journal of Biblical Literature 101 (1982): 132.
40 J. F. Williams, “Discipleship and Minor Characters in Mark’s Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 153 (1996): 340-41.