Monday, April 28, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 14)

To make the point about the devouring of widow’s property, Mark and Luke speak nearly identically with what comes next.  Using Mark’s record, they report that Jesus “sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it.  Many rich people were throwing in large amounts” (12:41-42).  By this, they secure the presence of experts in the law at their synagogues and their banquets.  Continuing, Mark reports: “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny.  He called His disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others.  For they all gave out of their wealth.  But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had” (12:41-44). 

Far from being a praise of this widow, and though it is certainly not a criticism of the poor woman, these are words of lament.  These are not words meant to inform the Jesus community as to how they should live and how they should give (though many would certainly give all that they had, but not because of this story).  Heard in line with all that is going on, this story of the widow portends judgment, for her property had been devoured by the very Temple which has already been judged, and this is the point that Jesus makes and what the Gospel authors intend to convey.  Indeed, judgment---a more severe punishment---is what is coming. 

Matthew, almost surprisingly, makes no mention of the widow and the offering box.  He does not position Jesus across from the offering box to view the happenings, as does Mark.  Matthew does offer up the warnings about the experts in the law, their desire for greetings and the best seats, but he makes no mention of the devouring of widows’ property, or their long prayers.  Of course, Matthew’s lack of the warning about the devouring of widows’ property actually makes sense of the fact that he does not provide a record of the widow’s offering, as he does not have a need to demonstrate that which he has not mentioned. 

Where Mark and Luke record the warnings and the widow’s offering, Matthew and Matthew’s Jesus are more evocative.  Some might say that what Matthew puts in place of the warning and the offerings is far more harsh; and it would be difficult to disagree, for this is the point at which Matthew presents the “seven woes.”  Because Matthew is using Mark as the basis for his narrative, one could assert, with reasonable confidence, that Matthew, even though he omits part of the warning and the story about the widow, has the whole of these things in mind as he presents Jesus’ pronouncement of woe. 

Even if he does not have the devouring and the widow precisely in mind, one can certainly assert that he was aware of the story, since he presents half of the warning that is found in Mark and Luke.  Of course, the fact that the whole of the story is there in Mark and Luke, combined with the fact that Luke relies heavily on the Markan narrative, is an indication that Matthew must have known the story of the widow. 

Honestly, as one understands the setting and the narrative flow, it is almost unreasonable to surmise that Matthew is not here thinking about the second half of the warning and the widow’s offering.  So even if the widow is not going to be immediately called to the minds of Matthew’s hearers and readers, especially if his story is heard and read in isolation from the Markan and Lukan constructions, readers of the collected Scritpures have the privilege of knowing the story, and it should dance in their thoughts as they hear the words of Jesus as reported through Matthew’s twenty-third chapter. 

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