Today we read Mark 12:35-44 in Morning Prayer. Memphis is sort of a Scripture culture, lots of Bible focus takes place here. I want to look at is how people read the Bible (again). Anyone familiar with the Ancient Covenant text (the Bible of the Jews, usually called the Old Testament) knows that in its heyday, Judaism's relationship with God centered around three institutions: The King (David's line), the Temple (the sacrificial system) and the Scriptures--most centrally the Torah, or instruction (also called the Law), the Prophets (the 'historical books' and our written prophets, and the Writings (wisdom, psalms, etc). [The component of these three may not be exactly what you expect so go look it up for clarity]
[King, Temple, and Torah are all part of the covenant relationship. In Jesus' day the Temple (rebuilt by Ezra/Nehemiah) had recently been "refurbished/rebuilt" (historians call it the Second Temple period) by Herod. The Years of exile had raised the study of Torah to a broader audience (lay folks like Pharisees were actively engaged). The Davidic line lay fallow. Herod was not Davidic and none of the Davidics were making a move to rule.]
Reading the section of Mark we come across the story of the widow, whose pittance of a contribution, we are told, is more than all the rich gave. It is the story of proportional giving. She gave little, but it was all she had. The rich give much, but it is surplus. It is the type of Bible verse which gets memorized and is held up as a good example of generosity. It actually is nothing of the sort. I think I have written on this in the past. If you take a step back, the text turns out to be saying something different from how it is applied.
Mark has strung together several stories. Seen as a whole they inform each other. 12:28-34 focus on "what is the great commandment?" The answer, we know, is love God and love people. This is Jesus' take on Torah. Next Jesus asks "how can Messiah be called son of David?" Quoting from a psalm by David, He says Jesus calls Messiah "Lord." This is Jesus' take on Kingship. Lastly, Jesus says, "Beware of the scribes...they like honors, best seats in the house and they devour widows houses for the sake of appearance...they will receive the greater condemnation." Then we hear of the widow, who gave all she had to live on." That is Jesus' take on Temple- it is stealing from those who can least afford it, which is injustice. (As Jeremiah and Isaiah made clear that is part of the reason the Temple of Solomon was destroyed.) In what follows, immediately, in chapter 13, the disciples tell Jesus how amazing the Temple is and He tells them it is all coming down. Employing apocalyptic imagery, Jesus declares judgment on the center of Jewish worship. This prophecy comes true a generation later. The temple is still, to this day, gone. I do not think it is an accident that the widow story and the temple prediction lie side by side after Jesus' condemnation of the scribes.
Jesus speaks a hard word to organized religion. As a professional I am under special scrutiny. I know that and it worries me. In any case, the religious institutions, though God given, are human twisted. The alternative, "toss it all out," ignores the problem that whatever you put in its place will be every bit as twisted (humans do that). Jesus offers Himself as true King, True Rabbi/interpreter of Scripture, and the perfect sin offering and worship leader. Jesus would say the purpose of giving, generously, is to help widows, not fleece them. I think this reading of that little piece of Mark today is more consistent with what he wants us to consider as we ponder the words of the Lord Jesus. It is a reminder of what we are supposed to be doing in organized Christianity.