New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #17


So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises.

Today, if someone gave away her last cent, we would probably consider her to be foolish. Does Mark 12:41-44 encourage us to reconsider that evaluation?

(adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)

This story is difficult to interpret; one essay about it is called “The Widow’s Mite: Praise or Lament?” and it is a hard question to answer. On the one hand, Jesus goes out of his way to get his disciples to focus on this woman and then he says something nice about her. On the other hand, Jesus views the temple and its leadership as corrupt, so how can it be a good thing that she gave up money she couldn’t spare to it?

I will avoid the tough questions by making some comments about structure instead. No story in Mark occurs in a vacuum; they all rely on each other to make meaning. The story of the widow’s mite occurs immediately after Jesus tells his disciples to beware of scribes who devour widows’ houses. (By this, he means that they are in some way pilfering the widows’ money.) By contrast, the widow gives her tiny amount of money to the temple–which should be supporting her instead! She is the positive example in contrast to the negative example of the scribes. Given that she’s female, poor, and has no leadership role, it’s a big deal that Jesus chose her to be the positive example.

Further, there is a larger structure in this section of Mark:

A evil scribes denounced (12:38–40)

B the widow’s offering (12:41–44)

C teachings about true discipleship (13:1–37)

B’ the anointing (14:3–9)

A’ the plot to kill Jesus (14:10–11)

Jesus’ teachings about true discipleship are literally surrounded by positive examples of women being good disciples, at great financial cost to themselves. Jesus praises them both using a “verily I say unto you” saying. Interestingly, the widow’s mite is something like 1/20,000 the value of the anointing oil so there is also a larger point about it not being the actual amount of what we give but rather giving “our whole life” to Jesus which is starkly illustrated here. And then the positive examples are literally surrounded by negative example. (I’m too kind to point out that the negative examples are male and the positive ones female but, you know . . .)

And one more thing: it is not uncommon to hear that the “eye of the needle” (Mt 19:24) was a (small) gate into Jerusalem, which, if camels wanted to enter, they needed to pass through down on their knees and with their heads low. But this is so not true that even the Ensign debunked it.

I also wrote about this lesson here.





3 comments for “New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #17

  1. stephenchardy
    April 21, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Every week I enjoy having my world turned upside-down a bit with Julie Smith’s questions and discussions. I’ve mentioned this before but I enjoy, as a life-long Mormon and amateur investigator of the our scriptures, learning new ideas, perspectives, and interpretations of scripture stories that I have heard many times in my life. So many times in fact that I am certain that I no longer pay enough attention to them. So I love it when someone turns a story around and examines in a way that I would never be able to do on my own.

    For example: I when I taught my Primary class a few weeks ago about Jesus “cleansing” the temple, I was able to share an entirely new angle based on Julie Smith’s weekly topic. I taught the class that Jesus was not just clearing the temple of bad people, but that he was demonstrating that he was a “disruptive technology”, which I had to explain to my very bright nine year olds. I enjoyed it, and I hope they did as well.

    In any case, I am always interested in being fed new ideas and new angles. I have just recently become aware of the Maxwell Institute podcasts, and have found that there are several podcasts involving people who show up on this venue frequently.

    For example, Julie Smith is interviewed at some depth about the LDS approach to the New Testament. It is fascinating. She spends about 10 minutes, perhaps longer, on the genealogies of Jesus given in the Gospels. I am one of those who just skipped the genealogies in order to get on to the real stuff. But Julie Smith spoke at some length about what is being taught or suggested by those listing of names and generations, and how they might support the portrait that the gospel-writer was making of Jesus. Fascinating and enjoyable. You should listen for yourself:

    Look around a bit and you will see other regulars from T&S pop up there as well.

  2. Julie M. Smith
    April 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Thanks, stephenchardy

  3. Terry H.
    April 22, 2015 at 6:45 am

    stephenchardy . . . Perhaps I should go back to Primary. What a great thought! Jesus as disruptive technology. “Think not that I am come to bring peace into the world . . .”

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