If you want to show off the strength of a movie hero, you have his opponents launch brutal attacks on him which he easily deflects, then have him crush them with his own blows.
The gloves are about to come off. It’s time for Jesus to take the offensive against his opponents.
Up till now in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, the religious leaders of the Jews have been trying to find ways to disgrace Jesus. They feel threatened by his popularity, and they (correctly) suspect that he believes himself to be the long-awaited Christ, the Messiah or anointed king sent by God himself to rule on the throne of his ancestor, David.
Unfortunately for them, everything Jesus says and does has been unimpeachable. “He has done all things well!” the astonished crowds are saying (7:37). He has been perfect in every way. So they’ve tried to trap him in his words, getting him to say something that will expose him as a fool or as a threat to their Roman overlords. But Jesus has answered their questions wisely and uncovered their own ignorance.
Now, Jesus shifts tactics. His opponents are too afraid to interrogate him anymore. So he begins teaching the crowd in the temple, the seat of his enemies’ power. He quotes for them a verse from Psalm 110, which describes the coronation of God’s anointed king:
The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”
This psalm was written by David, and it features the Lord God speaking to the king he will appoint. Now, so far, this fits well with what the scribes (the religious teachers) have told their people about the Messiah. He is a king descended from David. But Jesus then points out, “David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” You don’t call your son your master.
So, as Jesus has asked, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” His point isn’t that the Christ is not a descendant of David. Rather, his point is that he is more than that. He is not just a great king; he is the great King. The scribes haven’t accounted for this. They’re supposed to be able to recognize the Messiah, but how can they possibly recognize him if they are clueless about who he really is? Jesus has exposed the scribes, shredding their supposed knowledge; they have an inadequate grasp of who the Messiah is. It’s no surprise that they’ve rejected Jesus.
Not only do they have an inadequate grasp of the Messiah, but the religious leaders also behave in wicked ways. Jesus continues, “Beware of the scribes!”—and lists a series of charges against them. They behave in an arrogant manner, wanting others to look up to them. They even take advantage of the financial resources of widows. Jesus declares, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” For a Jew, this would have been a shocking statement. Most Jews looked up to the scribes as holy and learned men. But Jesus is telling the crowd to beware of them! They have been placed in a position of great privilege, having a tremendous knowledge of the scriptures and a deep respect from the people. But they’ve abused their prestige. And all who associate themselves with the scribes, imitating them rather than being wary of them, will find themselves sharing in their condemnation.
The religious leaders not only behave in wicked ways, but even their supposedly righteous deeds are not as impressive as they appear to be. We next find Jesus sitting in the outer court of the temple, watching people drop their donations into the offering box. There are plenty of rich people pouring huge sums of money into the box, but it’s a poor widow who attracts Jesus’ attention. She drops in two lepta, copper coins that were nearly worthless. Jesus pulls his disciples together at once and tells them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”
Now, if that’s not an upside-down statement, I don’t know what is! Jesus explains, “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
This woman’s act of severe generosity exposes the religious leaders as frauds. Even if they were to donate huge sums of money to the temple, they could never match the piety of this poor widow, who gave her whole life to the Lord. And they will never be able to match Jesus himself, who will give his whole life as a sacrifice before the week is up. Their good deeds are just not that impressive.
You can become a leader in your church, graduate from seminary, teach from the Bible, earn the respect of your whole church and community, and still be a clueless and evil wretch, a false disciple who consistently opposes Jesus. The guy at your church who flips burgers for a living may be a much more holy and righteous person than you are. And no matter what, you can never match the righteousness of Jesus. When placed next to the cross, nothing you do is really all that impressive.
Deep within your heart is a stubborn pride which wants people to recognize you for what a great person you think you are.
But you’re not Jesus.