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Mark 12:1317, 2831, 3840comment (0)

October 8, 2009

By Michael Wilson

Related Scripture: Mark 12:1317, 2831, 3840

Bible Studies for Life
Director, Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford University

The Hero Doing Battle
Mark 12:13–17, 28–31, 38–40

One of my favorite restaurants closed a few years ago, much to my disappointment. The food was terrific but I didn’t care for the ambiance inside. There were no windows in this restaurant. When entering on a sunny day, the lighting inside was so dim it took time for my eyes to adjust. Typically I’d stumble my way to a table and once seated, wait to read the menu until my eyes adjusted to the dim light.

My experience at that restaurant has become a metaphor for one of the greatest challenges of discipleship: to transform culture rather than conform to culture. Jesus taught and lived in countercultural ways. He disturbed the status quo “darkness” of lifeless, legalistic expressions of faith. This Sunday’s lesson helps us see Jesus as the Light of the World, transforming the prevailing “darkness” of His culture’s lifeless practice of faith.

Face-off Over Allegiances (13–17)
We know the Pharisees were a party within Judaism who gave strict attention to observing both written and oral laws of the Jewish faith. Little is known of the Herodians other than they were Jewish leaders who were part of civil government during the dynasty of Herod. The Pharisees despised the Herodians, who were considered unclean because they worked with the Romans. Curiously these groups worked together in this instance perhaps because each had an interest in Jesus’ response. The Pharisees hoped to catch Jesus responding contrary to the Jewish Law thereby discrediting Him while elevating themselves. The Herodians depended on the Roman treasury to provide their livelihood. If Jesus advocated violation of the civil tax code, then they would have cause to bring Him before Roman authorities. Both groups were amazed by His answer to their question. In one simple statement, Jesus acknowledged the role of government while affirming one’s final loyalty must be to God.

Face-off Over Priorities (28–31)
Scribes were loyal allies of the chief priests and elders. The scribe recalled by Mark appears to be open to Jesus’ insights after hearing His responses to earlier questions. There are more than 600 commandments in the Jewish Law. Some are considered more important than others. The most important was a frequent topic of conversation. Jesus’ answer linked two important commandments: Love God and love neighbor. The scribe received the answer without question and affirmed Jesus’ response by acknowledging their practice was more important than any ritual religious act. Jesus’ response must not be overlooked — loving God and neighbor brings one nearer the kingdom of God. Loving God and neighbor in active, intentional, engaging ways is how authentic discipleship is demonstrated.

Face-off Over Hypocrites (38–40)
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus condemned the priests for allowing the temple to be desecrated by merchants. Here Mark presents Jesus condemning scribes and teachers of the Law for self-serving actions. Long, ornately decorated robes were worn only by people of importance. The style of these garments was such that walking quickly or performing menial tasks was impossible. Only people of status who had servants do their work wore such garments. Scribes and teachers of the Law were highly regarded because they had daily contact with the sacred texts of Scripture. People rose from their seats when these men passed by, and they were greeted with respectful words. The most important seats in the synagogue were at the very front, facing the congregation and closest to the cabinet containing the scrolls of Holy Scripture. Only “VIPs” took those seats. Because teachers of the Law were forbidden to receive pay for teaching, they lived off the benevolence of others. Jesus condemned such teachers of the Law for their self-promotion, dishonesty and abuse of the vulnerable. In the presence of a large gathering in the temple, He declared such hypocrisy would bring “even greater” condemnation. Mark places a contrasting story of an unnamed impoverished widow after Jesus’ harsh words for religious hypocrites. With genuine piety, unnoticed by others, she offered what she had. Mark is careful to point out that Jesus noticed what others did not.

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