Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Honorable Exploits
Mark 12:38-44
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27)
Analysis by Lori A. Cornell

Mark 12: 38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

DIAGNOSIS: Shameful Honor

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Dishonorable Exploits
“Beware of the scribes,” Jesus says (v. 38). Not just any scribes, mind you, but those who misuse their position to gain personal honor. Why this warning? Because the effect of someone seeking personal honor is that too often someone else suffers-in this case, namely, widows. The scribe pilfers yet another coin out of the temple offering to afford his long robe, and a widow misses a meal; the scribe pursues prestige by trying to run in the fast crowd, by seeking a place of honor at banquets, and a widow is left homeless. Isn’t that the way it works all too often? When we seek prestige, wealth, fame, and especially honor for ourselves, someone is bound to get hurt along the way. (Lurking behind designer clothes labels are often sweatshops. Behind wealthy 19th-century plantation owners were slaves. The examples go on ad infinitum.)

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Honoring Self
But worse than exploiting the widow is the unfaith that hides behind this exploit. The scribe who devours widows’ homes must fear, love, and trust his own honor above anything else. He has made self-honor his god, above the Almighty. And so he too easily overlooks God’s very direct command (through the prophets) to care for orphans and widows. Loyalty to his own cause (of honor-mongering) overshadows obeying the Lord.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Shamefully Condemned
“They will receive the greater condemnation,” Jesus declares about such scribes (v. 40). Honoring oneself rather showing mercy for the needy results in condemnation. God has no use for those who seek self-honor over compassion. The world may indulge such honor-mongers for their efforts, but with God it will only earn shameful condemnation.

PROGNOSIS: Honorable Shame

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – (Dis-)Honorable Messiah
Unlike the scribe who pursues personal honor, Jesus foregoes honor in order to obey the Father’s command for mercy. Worse, he accepts the shame of the cross-dying, understandably, for the forgotten (widows and orphans) but, more dishonorably, for ungrateful scribe-types who have forgotten God’s way of mercy. Like the widow, Jesus foolishly-lavishly-gives every last bit of himself. And because he gives himself fully and completely to God’s cause of mercy, in the resurrection the Father vanquishes him. For accepting the world’s shame and dishonor, the Father gives Jesus the seat of honor at his right hand. And, from that seat, Jesus judges the living and the dead.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Honor Where It’s Due
This same Jesus, who suffered shame and dishonor, is our Savior. He suffered on the cross to bring those of us who were far away (or who thought we deserved the seat of honor ourselves) back to God. His death and resurrection give us true honor. What’s his is ours, and so we receive an honor we do not deserve but which he gladly gives. Were he not so gracious and humble, his mercy would shame us; instead his mercy makes us grateful and humbles us. “You did this for me?” we ask him. And he says, “Yes, my life for you. All of this- forgiveness and life with my Father-for you!” And in honor of his generous mercy we repent of seeking honor for ourselves and say, “Thank you, Jesus. Forgive my dishonor, and give me your honor. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and might are yours alone.”

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Honor in Service
We have an honorable Lord who accepted shame to bring us back to God. And, impressed by his generous mercy, we set our hearts, not only on confessing our need for him, but on the widows and orphans of the world-all who suffer shame and dishonor. No longer do we worry about whether we’ll receive worldly honor by serving him. Instead, we serve in gratitude because he served us first. And, what’s more, we speak his name to others without shame, because we have a Lord in whom we can invest our whole lives-everything we have to live on.


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