No one likes to talk about taxes. Right?

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

No one likes to talk about taxes. Right? Jews in the First-century hated taxation. There were plenty of taxes in ancient Judea: religious and secular. Annual Temple: Males over the age of twenty were responsible for yearly paying a temple tax that supported the functioning of the Jewish temple. They had to pay two-drachma or half-shekel worth about two days' wages. “In addition to the temple tax, Jews were expected to tithe on all crops to support the priests.” A secular tax was imposed on the Jews by Rome. Taxation was a heavy burden on the Jews. They could not avoid it.

Taking this into account, the narratives of the poor widow's contribution and prediction of temple destruction are strongly related to unjust taxation. The traditional interpretation of the window’s story sees her as the antithesis of the scribes. She demonstrates true piety, unlike the scribes who show fake piety. Reading her story in its context, we come up with a different interpretation. Jesus condemns scribes before he notices the poor widow.

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” (Mark 12:38-40).

Immediately Mark narrates the poor women’s story. Jesus criticizes the unjust priests and scribes who establish a temple system that routinely oppresses the poor and widows. The system manipulated the poor widow to give money to the temple. Priests and scribes do so along of the guise of piety. The widow put into the offering box two tiny coins, which are worth a penny. Jesus does not prise the poor woman for being generous, but he laments her. “The story is not so much appalled the window’s generosity as a corrupt religious system that asks of her all she has to live on.”

The evangelist Mark narrates that as Jesus comes out of the temple following the episode of the poor widow, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” (Mark 13:1). Jesus is not impressed by the temple structure. For Jesus, the temple represents a corrupt and oppressive system. So, Jesus predicts its destruction in 70 CE. The temple that steals the poor of their all they have to live on in the name of piety and religion. Consequently, it does not deserve to survive. The temple must fall down.

Joel Marcus summarizes the text. “ That [the] institution is barren, corrupt, and headed for judgment and ruin… so whatever is contributed to it is at best a waste and at worst a prop for a rotten, oppressive and doomed system.” [1] In other words, the temple exploits the poor and consequently, the temple deserves destruction. The widow's story is a condemnation of the temple. Every unjust system or every systemic sin is doomed to destruction. Any corrupt system that exploits the poor and the marginalized is doomed to destruction.

Systemic sin is deeply rooted in our society and every society. How many of you have to postpone your health treatment because you cannot afford it? How many are health insurance companies robbing their customers? They take their money and offer them little. It is shocking to see many seniors are living on fixed incomes that often force them to choose between paying for health care or buying groceries. You know that getting sick or become disabled put you at risk to lose your life savings. This corrupt system must fall down.

Any corrupt system that punishes the poor and rewards the rich, or marginalizes the elderly and favors the young is doomed to destruction. A corrupt system that discriminates against race, gender, age and people with disability is doomed to destruction.

We do not need to wait for the Romans to destroy the systematic sin in our society. Christians are responsible for transforming their society and for working to advance the Kingdom of God. Jesus does not want us to wait for him to come back to change our world. This work falls on you and me. We are called to challenge systemic sin that traps people in poverty, isolation, and sickness. We cannot do this work alone.

For this reason, we need to hold on our faith, and Jesus promises to be with us. He promises you to walk with you. The Holy Spirit inspires and leads you to transform your world. Jesus will be a very present help to you. He will guide you through any challenging circumstance. “You don’t have to fear, wonder, or worry about your situation because God will be faithful to you.”

Jesus wants to walk with you on your journey through life and help you to challenge the oppressive system that makes your life difficult. The promise Jesus makes to you is his continued presence through the Holy Spirit that gives you comfort and strength in any tough circumstances.

 

[1] Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 861.