A Provocation: Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost: November 11, 2018: Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44
12:38 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,

12:39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

12:40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

12:41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

12:42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

12:43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

12:44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

This will be short.  It is already late, so why not be short?

The NRSV renders the beginning of the passage this way:

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…

Punctuated this way, Jesus is saying that all scribes like to walk around in long robes, etc.

That is not true.  It is not true historically.  It is not even true in the rest of Mark’s gospel.  Look back at last week’s gospel.  That scribe is no one to beware of.  Jesus says that he is “not far from the kingdom.”

The punctuation is wrong, and leads to dangerous interpretation.

The passage should be rendered this way:

12:38 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…

Notice the difference: now Jesus says that there are scribes to look out for: the ones in long neck ties who demand to be embraced and admired, they are the ones who pretend to protect insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions.  They are the ones who devour the defenseless, and then say a long table-prayer to make it clear that they are great moral leaders.

Just saying.

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