Let us invest with the Lord what he has given us, for we have nothing that does not come from him: we are dependent upon him for our very existence. — Paul of Nola, 4/5th c
This is really not about the woman with the little coins. This is about Judas.
Let me explain slowly. We are at the end of a long day in the temple. It has begun with a prophetic act: Jesus cursed the fig tree for not bearing fruit, cleaned house at the temple courts, and has withdrawn. He comes back next day and the fig tree is withered. Prophecy has been proven. Temple and tree are judged.
A cryptic saying about telling this mountain to jump into the sea follows. Which is “this” mountain? Zion? By Faith can you imagine life without this mountain and the temple thereon? The saying is followed by a short discourse on praying and forgiving and having faith.
After that, we argue with the scribes, pharisees and chief priests. At the end of that day, we come to the episode about the widow and her small coins. Jesus has condemned the temple — the fig tree episode — and it leadership — all the arguments in chapter 12 up to this point. Now he watches this woman give “all of her living” to the temple.
It is not uncommon to see Jesus’ words as marveling at her faith. I am taking the tack that he is lamenting what she has been taught to do and believe. The temple is to bring forth fruit. It is to be a house of prayer. It also is to care for women like her. She ought to have more to show for that charge to the temple to take care of the widow and orphan than two copper coins. They, the temple authorities, ought to be giving to her. But they do not. Instead they invest in long flowing robes and in in the ever increasing splendor of the temple complex. (13:1)
Chapter 13 is a dark chapter in which Jesus predicts the downfall of the splendid temple. The destruction will be so great that heaven itself will split (15:38) open and the Son of Man will come in Glory. Another fig tree will be a signal to the faithful. The fig tree comes into leaf signaling summer. When you see it you will know that the Son of Man is on the way. Who is this fig tree and what becomes of the withered one?
By chapter 14 we are at Bethany. Another woman comes forward. She has expensive perfume worth a year’s wages, very well worth “all she had to live on,” and anoints Jesus with it. Complains immediately rise: “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” (14:4-5).
But Jesus replies: “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (14:6-9) And it is at that very moment that Judas rises and goes to the chief priests to betray Jesus.
The question lingers: “Why did he do so and why then,” and that question is asked rightly. An obvious scenario suggests itself. Judas, the revolutionary, had beef with the chief priests. Hearing of the downfall of their source of power was good news to him. Hearing Jesus lament the widow’s gift to the heartless institution was right in line with Judas thinking. However, if you do not see the Son of Man in Jesus and do not notice the greening of the second fig tree, then Jesus is merely accepting the same wasteful rewards that the chief priests accepted in retaining the widow’s coins in the treasury. In that case, he is no better than them and Judas is merely the one who called him on his hypocrisy. How can one who came not to be served but to serve (10:45) accept this extravagant action by this woman?
Both women remain silent about their motives. One gives lavishly to a corrupt institution that will be destroyed, the other anoints a Messiah whose time on earth is by that time very limited. The first has no idea that the temple is doomed. The latter probably does not grasp that death is the means by which Jesus will accomplish his saving ministry. If there is no temple and no resurrection then both have wasted greatly.
I am fascinated by Judas, I admit it. It is easy to dismiss him as possessed in a simple reading of Luke’s report. (22:3) But the tempter’s power is the lie so that even in Luke’s scenario the lie has taken hold of Judas. At base that lie is that God cannot be trusted. (Ge 3) How can you trust either temple or Jesus — if you believe Jesus in the first place? Maybe he is just a convenient means to an end you already have in mind. Maybe the temple is that as well.
Somehow, both women are not of that mind. Both are giving excessive and unaffordable amounts. As Mark would say: “Their whole living.” They both seem to long for something worthy to put their Faith in. If that was not true, they would not be giving so immensely. Something would have been held back.
Judas’ betrayal is not unrewarded. 30 pieces of silver are nothing to sneeze at. They were paid to him out of the temple treasury I would think so the temple was of some use to him after all. But where does he rest his faith now? And, by the way, the two copper coins contributed to his bounty.
Faith is an all or nothing proposition. Israel has its faith in the temple. The church has her faith in Jesus, Lord, Savior and King. If Faith is indeed utter trust in the one in whom it is placed then that utter trust is acted out with our entire living. To hedge any part is to go the Judas road in the end. The widow gave in Faith to temple. The woman at Bethany gave to Jesus. Neither had any right to think that their gift would somehow pay off. They gave and had to rely on God to be trustworthy and good, something that the Lie tries ever so hard to deny. Judas’ allegiance was conditional. In the face of all that is predicted in Mark 13 can one really hedge ones bets and is it safe to be found with 30 pieces of silver?