Mark 12:38-44

12:38   In his teaching he said,

            'Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes,

            to be greeted respectfully in the market squares,

12:39   To take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets;

12:40   These are the men who devour the property of widows

            and for show offer long prayers.

            The more severe will be the sentence they receive.'

12:41   He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people

            putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal.

12:42   A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny.

12:43   Then he called his disciples and said to them,

            'In truth I tell you, this poor widow has put more in

            than all who have contributed to the treasury;

12:44   for they have all put in money they could spare,

            but she in her poverty has put in everything she possessed,

            all she had to live on.'


This piece of text is the last part of Jesus' teaching in the temple. It started with three groups of opponents who tried, one after another, to catch Jesus in his words. First there were the High Priests and the Scribes and the Elders: all together they were the Sanhedrin, the High Court (11:27-12,12). After them, the Pharisees and the Herodians showed up (12:13-17). They conspired to kill Jesus (cf.03;06). At last there were the Sadducees (12:18-27). After them, one of the Scribes asked Jesus about the most important commandment (12:28-34). Next, Jesus takes the initiative three times. First he asks how the Messiah can be 'son of David' (12:35-37). After that he gives his disciples two examples of looking through the appearances of things and discerning the inside. This is text of today.

First he urges his disciples to look through the nice appearance of the Scribes and to discern their poorness.

Then, the other way around, he urges his disciples to look through the poor appearance of the widow wit her meagre sacrifice and to discern the richness inside.


Jesus' enumeration of the rotten behaviour of the Scribes is striking by the participles he is using:

1. wanting walking around in stolas and being greeted on the market places;

2. and first-sitting in the synagogues

3. and first-laying at the meals

4. eating the houses of the widows

5. and apparently long praying...

It is as if we can see Jesus counting on his fingers...

Stolas were garments worn by the people of the highest ranks in the human society.


'First-sitting' and 'first-laying': these are words composed by Mark himself. Do we hear Jesus' word in the background, 'Many firsts will be lasts and lasts firsts' (10:31)?

Picture Meditation

These glass windows are to be found in the Magdalena Church, Herzogenrauch, in the south of Germany. They date from around 1960. The artist composes both scenes as a parallel: the offering persons are to be found in the centre of the picture; in the left corner we see the treasury, pictured as a (golden?) dish.

The riches of the man can be told by his well-fed posture, from his cloths, from the very visible money bag on his stomach, from the handkerchief in his left hand with which he will clean his hands afterwards, so that he doesn't  lose his purity before the Lord, and his importance is to be read, of course, from the bag with money which he ostentatiously places into the bowl.

The poverty of the woman can be told by her meagre posture, from the child she has on her arm and from the penny she places into the bowl, besides (or upon?) the bag of the rich man. She is a sorrowful mother who has to take care of the child in her arms. However, he...?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ

St Mark's Gospel Reflections