All In! Reflections on Mark 12:38-44

Lectionary Reflections
Mark 12:38-44
November 11, 2012

I spent Halloween night grading papers in my home office, which happens to be right next to the front door, periodically jumping up when there was a knock on the door to hand out candy to neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

I had bought several bags labeled "Demon Treats," collections of 130 snack-size candy handouts: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Pieces, Kit Kat (crisp wafers), Whoppers (the original malted milk balls), and Milk Duds (made with chocolate and caramel). I also bought a bag of miniature Almond Joy bars, the kind with coconut and almonds covered in milk chocolate. Overbuying the candy is an annual pattern for me.

So is putting on a pointy black witch's hat and decorating my front porch with two fat pumpkins, pots of yellow chrysanthemums, and a giant fake spider I bought at Party City years ago. It's my little contribution to a holiday so dear to children everywhere. When I was a child we watched The Wizard of Oz every year. I found the whole thing kind of creepy, except for the cameo appearance of Glindathe Good Witch with her kindly smile and warbly soprano voice. When she floated down in that bubble, I felt like everything was right with the world as long as she had made her entrance.

In between trick-or-treaters, as I was procrastinating grading papers, I posted on Facebook a picture of me in my witch's hat with the caption, "Glinda the Good Witch hands out Kit Kats and Whoppers and saves the Almond Joy bars for herself." Sixty-five people liked the post, with eighteen comments. I guess there were a lot of people sitting by their front doors waiting for trick-or-treaters like I was.

One "friend" commented that "Glinda was nobody's fool."

Another recounted he used to dump his kids' booty and tell them all the stuff they wouldn't like, and then made that his stash.

Yet another suggested we should only buy what we like, considerably overestimate the number of trick-or-treaters we expect, and hoard our favorites.

Yet another commented that "Fun size is only fun if you eat more than one."

Their comments make it clear that we all have our own ways of keeping a little something back for ourselves. We don't want to give it all away. We can't all be like this noble widow giving away her last bit of cash with nothing left in her ATM. She's all in. And if I'm honest with myself, I admit that, with regard to my discipleship, I'm almost all in.

I remember seeing the inspiring movie at the visitors' center at the Alamo in San Antonio. The noble young commander William Travis draws the line in the dirt with his boot and invites all who will stay and fight with him to cross it. I'm afraid I might have been one foot over, one foot back, getting out my iPhone to check my calendar, saying something like, "I'll see if I can stay. I think I may have a conflict and may need to leave for a while, but I might be able to come back tomorrow, if you really need me."

Are We "All In," Like the Widow Who Gave Everything? 

Over the past several weeks, the texts from Mark have featured varying levels of commitment or lack thereof. In response to Jesus' ministry, some people were all in, some were all out, and others were almost all in.

The rich man in Mark 10:22 went away grieving for he had many possessions (10:22). He was all out.

James and John (10:35-45) are willing to be all in if Jesus will promote them to the corner office. They're all in if their conditions are met.

Bartimaeus (10:46-52), like our poor widow, is all in. Had I been playing his role I would have draped my cloak over my arm and taken it with me as I felt my way toward Jesus through the crowd. Just in case . . . just in case Jesus couldn't heal me, I'd have a fall-back plan. I'd have my money, my shelter, my bed—all of which the first-century beggar's cloak represented.

If I'd been playing the role of the poor widow, I'd have put in one coin and kept the other. But that's not how she does things. In 12:38-40, Jesus denounces scribes who are all about their own prestige and wealth. Then, by contrast, he praises the widow who gives to the max. She is all in.

The scribe in the passage just before this one (12:28-34) is on the brink of being all in. Jesus tells him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (12:34). All it will take for him to enter is to love the Lord with all his heart, all his soul, all his mind, all his strength and to love his neighbor as himself (12:30-32). The word "all" appears an awful lot of times in that short text. Apparently, all it will take is all he's got!

Says Hugh Anderson in his commentary on the widow in Mark, "The poor widow who offers her whole living to God contrasts markedly with the hypocritical and avaricious leaders of Judaism, and affords a superb example of complete loyalty and devotion to God's call. The evangelist is addressing the disciples. Discipleship involves absolute surrender to and trust in the God to whose will and purpose Jesus is about to commit himself absolutely in his passion" (Anderson 286-7).

Clearly, I'm going to need to rethink my candy strategy next year. And my discipleship as well.

Sources Consulted

Hugh Anderson, The New Century Bible Commentary on Mark (Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1987).