The Scribes and Widows You Don’t See

Imagine a group of people: a crowd at a football game, the downtown of a city, a congregation gathered for worship.

Now pick out the scribes and the widows. And here’s a hint: not all the widows are women, and not all the scribes are men.


Widows are all through the Bible, and all over this week’s lections, from Naomi to the widow of Zarephath to the widow in Mark. As discussed in this excellent article at Bible Study Tools, widows in the Bible were a special concern of the prophets, who often noted that one mark of a righteous society is how it treated its widows.

Why? Because in the patriarchal society of Bible times, widows were powerless. If they had no children to help take care of them, they often became destitute. And because of their precarious situation, they became prime targets for exploitation.

Jesus points out this exploitation when he talks about the scribes in Mark 12. “Beware of the scribes … They devour widows’ houses.” In this context, who do the scribes represent? The powerful. And not just any powerful person: they represent the persons who use their power to take advantage of the powerless, even to the point of destruction.

Let me give you one example. The executives of a certain company did not want to pay the pensions they had promised their employees. They came up with a novel scheme: transfer the part of their company that owed the pensions to a newly-incorporated subsidiary, then bankrupt that subsidiary, thus releasing the parent company from the pension obligation.

And of course, not pay the pensions, either. Workers who had counted on those pensions had nothing to live on. Even worse, spouses of deceased workers – widows – were suddenly destitute.

Did these executives “devour widows’ houses”? Indeed they did. And yet, I suspect many of them were sitting in church the next Sunday, singing the hymns, smiling at the childrens’ sermon, and shaking the hand of the preacher as they left.

“They shall receive the greater condemnation.”

So, look again at the crowd of people in your imagination. Find the widows, find the scribes. Then ask yourself:

Where are the widows in my life, and do I care for them?

Where are the scribes in my church, and do I confront them?

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