Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.Ch. Mark 12:1-12. Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
1. by parables] Another Parable spoken at this time was that of “the Two Sons” (Matthew 21:28-32), and “the Marriage of the King’s Son” (Matthew 22:1-14). St Mark relates only the second of these three Parables.
A certain man planted a vineyard] Our Lord seems to take up the words of the prophet Isaiah (Mark 5:1-7) and to build His teaching the more willingly on the old foundations, as He was accused of destroying the Law. Comp. Deuteronomy 32:32; Psalm 80:8-16; Ezekiel 15:1-6; Hosea 10:1. By the Vineyard we are to understand the Kingdom of God, as successively realized in its idea (1) by the Jew, and (2) by the Gentile. Trench’s Parables, p. 193.
planted] The householder not merely possessed, he “planted” the vineyard. So God planted His spiritual vineyard (a) under Moses (Deuteronomy 32:12-14; Exodus 15:17), (b) under Joshua, when the Jews were established in the land of Canaan.
an hedge about it] Not a hedge of thorns, but a stone wall to keep out wild boars (Psalm 80:13), jackals, and foxes (Numbers 22:24; Song of Solomon 2:15; Nehemiah 4:3). The word only occurs (a) here, (b) in the parallel Matthew 21:33, (c) in Luke 14:23, “go ye into the highways and hedges,” and (d) Ephesians 2:14, “the middle wall of partition.” “Enclosures of loose stone, like the walls of fields in Derbyshire or Westmoreland, everywhere catch the eye on the bare slopes of Hebron, of Bethlehem, and of Olivet.” Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 421.
a place for the winefat] “dalf a lake,” Wyclif; “digged a pit to receauve the lycour of the wynepresse,” Geneva; “digged a trough,” Rhemish Version. The original word only occurs here in the N.T., and = the Latin lacus. The winepress, = torcular (Matthew 21:33), consisted of two parts; (1) the press (gath) or trough above, in which the grapes were placed, and there trodden by the feet of several persons amidst singing and other expressions of joy (Jdg 9:27; Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 25:30); (2) a smaller trough (yekeb), into which the expressed juice flowed through a hole or spout (Nehemiah 13:15; Isaiah 63:2; Lamentations 1:15). Here the smaller trough, which was often hollowed (“digged”) out of the earth or native rock and then lined with masonry, is put for the whole apparatus, and is called a wine-fat. This word occurs also in Isaiah 63:2; Hosea 9:2, marg.; compare press-fat, Haggai 2:16; and fat, Joel 2:24; Joel 3:13. Fat from A. S. fæt = a vessel, vat, according to the modern spelling. Comp. Shakespeare, Ant. and Cleop. ii. 7. 120:—
“Come thou monarch of the vine,
Plumpie Bacchus, with pinke eyne:
In thy fattes our cares be drown’d.”
and built a tower] i. e. a “tower of the watchman,” rendered “cottage” in Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 24:20. Here the watchers and vinedressers lived (Isaiah 5:2), and frequently, with slings, scared away wild animals and robbers. At the corner of each enclosure “rises its square grey towers, at first sight hardly distinguishable from the ruins of ancient churches or fortresses, which lie equally scattered over the hills of Judæa.” Stanley, p. 421.
to husbandmen] By these the spiritual leaders and teachers of the Jewish nation (Malachi 2:7; Ezekiel 34:2) are intended. Their land, secluded and yet central, was hedged round on the east by the river Jordan, on the south by the desert of Idumæa, on the west by the sea, on the north by Libanus and Anti-Libanus, while they themselves were separated by the Law, “the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14), from the Gentiles and idolatrous nations around.
went into a far country] “for a long while,” adds St Luke, or “many times.” “At Sinai, when the theocratic constitution was founded, and in the miracles which accompanied the deliverance from Egypt, the Lord may be said to have openly manifested Himself to Israel; but then to have withdrawn Himself again for awhile, not speaking to the people again face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10-12), but waiting in patience to see what the Law would effect, and what manner of works the people, under the teaching of their spiritual guides, would bring forth.” Trench, Parables, p. 197.
And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.2. at the season] i. e. when the fruit season drew near.
a servant] So Luke 20:10; his servants, Matthew 21:34; the prophets and other eminent messengers of God raised up at particular periods for particular purposes. “Servi sunt ministri extraordinarii, majores; agricolæ, ordinarii.” Bengel.
of the fruit] The householder’s share. The rent not being paid in money, but in a stipulated portion of the produce, according to the well-known metayer system once prevalent over great part of Europe. The prophets were sent to the people from time to time to require of them “the repentance and the inward longing after true inward righteousness, which the Law was unable to bring about.”
And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.3. they caught him] The gradual growth of the outrage is clearly traced: (i) The first servant they “caught, beat, and sent away empty;” (ii) at the second they “cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled;” (iii) the third “they killed.”
And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.4. wounded him in the head] The original word, which generally denotes to comprehend in one sum, or under one head, is nowhere else used in this sense. Some MSS. omit the words they cast stones, and instead of “sent him away shamefully handled,” read simply, “used him shamefully” (comp. 2 Samuel 10:4). Thus Jezebel “slew the prophets of the Lord” (1 Kings 18:13); Micaiah was thrown into a dungeon by Ahab (1 Kings 22:24-27); Elijah was threatened with death by Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2); Elisha by Jehoram (2 Kings 6:31); Zechariah was stoned at the commandment of Joash (2 Chronicles 24:21; comp. 2 Chronicles 36:16); Jeremiah was stoned by the exiles in Egypt; Isaiah, according to Jewish tradition, was sawn asunder (Hebrews 11:37-38; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.
Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.6. Having yet therefore] Note here the description of this last of the ambassadors of the householder. Not only was he his son, but his only one, his well-beloved, “a sone most dereworth,” Wyclif. This marks as strongly as possible the difference of rank between Christ and the prophets, by whom “at sundry times and in divers manners God spake in times past unto the fathers” (Hebrews 1:1), the distinction between them and the dignity of Him, Who only was in the highest sense His Son, and Whom He hath “appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 3:5-6).
But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.7. This is the heir] “he for whom the inheritance is meant, and to whom it will in due course rightfully arrive—not as in earthly relations, by the death, but by the free appointment, of the actual possessor.” Christ is “heir of all things,” not as He is the Son of God, but as He is the Son of Man.
come, let us kill him] Comp. Genesis 37:20; and especially John 11:47-53, where “the servants” conspiring against “the Heir of all things” actually assign as their motive that “if they let Him alone,” they “will lose both their place and nation.”
And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.8. and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard] The order is reversed in the first and third Gospels, which remind us of Naboth, whom they “carried forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones that he died” (1 Kings 21:13), and of Him, Who suffered without the gate (Hebrews 13:12-13; John 19:17). The second Evangelist represents them as first killing the son, and then flinging forth the body and denying it the ordinary rites of sepulture.
What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.9. he will come] According to St Matthew, this was the answer of the Pharisees themselves, either, before they were aware, pronouncing sentence against themselves, or pretending in the hardness of their hearts not to see the drift of the Parable. The answer was followed by “a deep God forbid” from several voices (Luke 20:16).
And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:10. And have ye] Rather, And did ye never read this Scripture? referring them to Psalm 118:21; Psalm 118:23, a Psalm which the Jews applied to the Messiah, and which is actually twice applied to Him by St Peter, in Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7. St Luke (Luke 20:17) tells us that our Lord fastened His eyes upon His wondering hearers, while He directed their attention to this ancient prophecy respecting Himself in the very Psalm, whence had been taken the loud Hosannas of Palm Sunday (Mark 11:9).
the head of the corner] The image of the vineyard is for a moment abandoned for that of a building. The “head of the corner” was a large and massive stone so formed as when placed at a corner to bind together the two outer walls of an edifice. Comp. for the application of the expression to Christ, Ephesians 2:20, and consult Isaiah 28:16; Daniel 2:44. The penalties of rejecting Him are more fully brought out in Matthew 21:43-44; Luke 20:18.
This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.12. they sought] All three Evangelists take note of the exasperation of our Lord’s hearers at words which they now clearly perceived were directed against themselves. The chief priests and Pharisees sought to arrest Him on the spot at once (Luke 20:19), but they were afraid of the multitudes, who regarded Him if not with the same deep feelings as on Palm Sunday, yet still as a prophet (Matthew 21:46), so they left Him and went their way (Mark 12:12). One more Parable followed, that of the “Marriage of the King’s Son” (Matthew 22:1-14), and once more the rulers of the nation were solemnly warned of the danger they were incurring. “Thus within a few hours of crucifixion, and conscious of the fact; in the intervals of mortal contest with the whole forces of the past and present, the wandering Galilæan Teacher, meek and lowly in spirit, so that the poorest and the youngest instinctively sought Him; full of Divine pity, so that the most sunken and hopeless penitent felt He was their friend; indifferent to the supports of influence, wealth, or numbers; alone and poor, the very embodiment of weakness, as regarded all visible help, still bore Himself with a serene dignity more than human. In the name of God He transfers the spiritual glory of Israel to His own followers; throws down the barriers of caste and nationality; extends the new dominion, of which He is Head, to all races, and through all ages, here and hereafter; predicts the Divine wrath on His enemies in this world, as the enemies of God, and announces the decision of the final judgment as turning on the attitude of men towards Himself and His message.” Geikie’s Life and Words of Christ, ii. pp. 414, 415; Liddon’s Bampton Lectures, pp. 113–118, Sixth Edition.
And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.13–17. The Question of the Tribute Money
13. And they send] Having failed themselves, the Jewish authorities resolved to send some of the Pharisees in company with the Herodians, to try to force Him to commit Himself by the answers He might give to their treacherous questions. A series of distinct attacks was now made upon our Lord, (a) The Pharisees took the lead with theirs, which was, indeed, the most cunningly devised; (b) the Sadducees followed; and then (c) came the Scribes of the Pharisees’ party.
the Herodians] See note on ch. Mark 3:6. As before, so now, the Jewish royalists united themselves with the ultra-orthodox Pharisaic party. The Herodians came in person. The Pharisees sent some of their younger scholars (Matthew 22:16) to approach Him with the pretended simplicity of a guileless spirit, and a desire to solve a perplexing question (Luke 20:20).
And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?14. Master, we know] This was said in a spirit of hypocritical flattery, as though they were ready to pay Him honour as the Messiah. We find Nicodemus saying the same thing in a spirit of sincerity (John 3:2).
and carest for no man] This was a cunning temptation to lift Himself above all respect for the Roman authorities.
Is it lawful to give tribute …?] The snare was no longer laid in the sphere of ecclesiastical questions, but in the more dangerous area of political duty. The tribute-money alluded to was a capitation tax levied by the Roman government, and keenly resented by Judas the Gaulonite (Acts 5:37) and his followers. If our Lord held the payment unlawful, He would compromise Himself with the Romans; if He sanctioned it, He would embroil Himself with the national party.
Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.15. knowing their hypocrisy] “verum se eis ostendit, ut dixerant.” Bengel.
bring me] “They would not be likely to carry with them the hated Roman coinage with its heathen symbols, though they might have been at once able to produce from their girdles the Temple shekel. But they would only have to step outside the Court of the Gentiles, and obtain from the money-changers’ tables a current Roman coin.” Farrar, Life, ii. p. 231.
a penny] Literally, a denarius, for the value of which see Mark 6:37.
And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's.16. Whose is this image] “The little silver coin, bearing on its surface the head encircled with a wreath of laurel, and bound round with the sacred fillet—the well-known features, the most beautiful and the most wicked, even in outward expression, of all the Roman Emperors, with the superscription running round, in the stately language of imperial Rome, Tiberius Cæsar, Divi Augusti filius Augustus, Imperator.” The image of the Emperor would be regarded by the stricter Jews as idolatrous, and to spare their feelings, the Romans had allowed a special coinage to be struck for Judæa, without any likeness upon it, and only the name of the Emperor, and such Jewish emblems as palms, lilies, grapes, and censers.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.17. Render] Literally, Give back, pay as being due. “therefore yelde ye to Cæsar,” Wyclif. It was not a question of a voluntary gift, but of a legal due. The head of the Emperor on the coin, the legend round it, and its circulation in the country, were undeniable proofs of the right of the actually existing government to levy the tax. “Ubicunque numisma alicujus regis obtinet, illic incolæ regem istum pro domino agnoscunt;” Maimonides. Remembrance of this precept “would have spared the Jewish war, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the downfall of their nation.” Lange.
and to God] He would remind them that besides the claims of the ruling powers, they had also the claim upon them of their Spiritual King, and obedience to Cæsar must ever be conditioned by obedience to God. “Render unto Cæsar all that he can lawfully demand, but render also to God, what He requires of you as His spiritual subjects.” “Give to God that which has the image and superscription of God, the soul.” Erasmus.
they marvelled at him] Neither the orthodox Pharisee nor the aristocratic royalist had expected such an answer from the Galilæan Teacher.
Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,18–27. The Question of the Sadducees Respecting the Resurrection
18. the Sadducees] Hitherto the Sadducees, “few, rich, and dignified,” had stood aloof, and affected to ignore the disciples of the despised “Prophet of Nazareth.”
Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.19. Moses wrote] The Law concerning the Levirate marriage is found in Deuteronomy 25:5. It was ordained for the preservation of families, that if a man died without male issue, his brother should marry his widow, and that the firstborn son should be held in the registers to be the son of the dead brother.
Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.20. there were seven brethren] It was probably a fictitious case, for the Jews were averse to the fulfilling of the enactment at all.
And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.
And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.
In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.23. In the resurrection therefore] Their difficulty originated entirely in a carnal notion that the connections of this life must be continued in another.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?24. because ye know not] Our Lord traces their error to ignorance (i) of the Scriptures, and (ii) of the power of God. He deals with the latter phase of ignorance first.
For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.25. when they shall rise] Had they known the power of God they could not have imagined that it was limited by death, or that the life of “the children of the resurrection” was a mere repetition of man’s present mortal existence. Compare the argument of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:39-44, based on the endless variety of the creative power of God.
as the angels] The Sadducees denied not only the Resurrection, but the existence also of angels and spirits (Acts 23:8). In His reply, therefore, our Lord embraces the whole area of their unbelief. He refers to the angels in heaven as persons, whose personal existence was a fact. Moreover in these words we have one of the few revelations which He was pleased to make as to the state after death. They imply that, as St Paul teaches, at the Resurrection “we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:44), and the “spiritual body” will not be liable to the passions of the “natural body.”
And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?26. in the book of Moses] They had brought forward the name of Moses to perplex Him, He now appeals to the same great name in order to confute them. He does not reprove them for attaching a higher importance to the Pentateuch than to the Prophets, but for not tracing the Divine Mind on the important subject of the Resurrection even there.
in the bush] i. e. in the section of the Book of Exodus (Mark 3:6) called “the Bush.” Similarly “the lament of David aver Saul and Jonathan” in 2 Samuel 1:17-27 was called “the Bow;” and Ezekiel 1:15-28 “the Chariot.” Compare also Romans 11:2; “in Elias” = the section concerning Elias. In the Koran the chapters are named after the matter they contain, and so also the Homeric poems. Wyclif alone of our English translators gives the right meaning, “Han ye not rad in the book of Moyses on the bousche, how God seide to him.”
God spake unto him, saying] On that momentous occasion, which marked an epoch in the national history, God had revealed Himself to Moses as a personal God, by the august and touching title of “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and therefore as bearing a personal relation to these patriarchs, upon whom He had set His seal of Circumcision, and so admitted them into covenant union with Himself. How unworthy would such a title be, if He, the Eternal and Unchangeable, had revealed Himself only as the God of men who had long since crumbled to dust and passed away into annihilation! How meaningless such a Name, if the souls of men at death perished with the body, “as the cloud faileth and passeth away”! Was it possible to believe He would have deigned to call Himself the God “of dust and ashes”?
He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.27. He is not the God of the dead] Our Lord thus taught them that the words implied far more than that God was the God, in Whom Abraham and the patriarchs trusted and worshipped.
but the God of the living] Jehovah could not have called Himself the God of persons who do not exist, and over whom death had completely triumphed. The patriarchs, therefore, though their bodies were dead, must themselves have been still living in the separate state, and awaiting the resurrection.
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?28–34. The Question of the Scribe
28. one of the scribes] From Matthew 22:34-35, it appears that he was a Pharisee, and a Master of the Law.
Which is the first commandment of all?] This question, on which the schools of Hillel and Shammai were disagreed, the Lawyer put, tempting our Lord (Matthew 22:35), hoping that He would commit Himself as an enemy of the Traditions. The Rabbinical schools taught that there were important distinctions between the Commandments, some being great and others small, some hard and weighty, others easy and of less importance. Great commands were the observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, minute rites of sacrifice and offering, the rules respecting fringes and phylacteries. Indeed, all the separate commandments of the ceremonial and moral Law had been carefully weighed and classified, and it had been concluded that there were “248 affirmative precepts, being as many as the members in the human body, and 365 negative precepts, being as many as the arteries and veins, or the days of the year; the total being 613, which was also the number of the letters in the Decalogue.”
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:29. And Jesus answered him] Pointing, it may be, to the Scribe’s tephillah, תפלה, the little leather box containing in one of its four divisions the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), which every pious Israelite repeated twice a day.
The first of all the commandments] The Saviour quotes the introduction to the ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) as the first command, not as forming one of the commandments, but as containing the principle of all.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.31. the second is like, namely this] According to the best MSS. the reading is, the second is this. The Lord had named only one commandment as great to the rich young ruler (Luke 10:27). To the Scribe He names two, as forming together “the great and first commandment.” Besides quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, He refers him to Leviticus 19:18.
And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.33. burnt offerings and sacrifices] The Scribe gathers up in his reply some of the great utterances of the Prophets, which prove the superiority of love to God and man over all mere ceremonial observances. See 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 51; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.34. discreetly] “wysely,” Wyclif. The word only occurs here in the N.T., and denotes “with knowledge and understanding.”
Thou art not far] The perception of Divine truth which his answer had shewed, revealed that he wanted but little to become a disciple of Christ. “Si non procul es, intra; alias præstiterit, procul fuisse.”
no man … durst] No other attempt was henceforth made to entangle the Redeemer by replies to subtle questions; “all alike kept aloof from one, from Whom chief priests and Rabbis equally went away humbled.” Some, however, would refer to this occasion the question respecting the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).
And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?35–37. Our Lord’s Counter-Question
35. And Jesus answered and said] He seemed to have turned to a number of the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41) who had collected together, to converse probably over the day’s discomfiture. The great counter-question is brought forward by St Matthew in all its historic importance as the decisive concluding interrogation addressed to the Pharisees. St Mark points out by the words “Jesus answered” that the statement contained a reply to some question already put.
For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.36. David himself said] The Pharisees are referred to the cxth Psalm, which the Rabbis regarded as distinctly Messianic. “The Lord (Jehovah) said unto my Lord (Adonai), Sit thou on My right hand till I make thy foes a footstool for thy feet.” In this lofty and mysterious Psalm, David, speaking by the Holy Ghost, was carried out of and beyond himself, and saw in prophetic vision that his Son would also be his Lord. The Psalm is more frequently cited by the New Testament writers than any other single portion of the ancient Scriptures (Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 7:21), “In later Jewish writings nearly every verse of it is quoted as referring to the Messiah.” Perowne on the Psalms, ii. 291.
David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.37. whence is he then his son?] Abraham had never called Isaac or Jacob or any of his descendants his lord. Why then had David done so? There could be but one answer: “Because that Son would be David’s Son as regarded human birth, his Lord as regarded His Divine Nature.” This answer, however, the Pharisees declined to make, not through ignorance, but through unbelief in our Lord’s Messianic claims.
the common people] Rather, the great multitude. “And moche cumpany gladli herde him.” Wyclif. This fact is peculiar to St Mark, and implies that they listened to Him gladly, not merely in the general sense, but with special reference to His Divine dignity as the Messiah.
And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,38–40. Admonition to beware of the Scribes
38. And he said] The terrible denunciations of the moral and religious shortcomings of the leaders of the nation, which now fall from our Lord’s lips, are given far more fully by St Matthew, Matthew 23:1-39. It was only the Jewish Christians, for whom that Evangelist wrote, who could at once, and at that time, understand and enter into the terrible declension of Pharisaic Judaism. To the Gentile Christians of Rome, for whom St Mark wrote, “the great woe-speech” would be to a certain extent unintelligible. Hence the picture of the Scribes is here shortly given in their three principal features; (1) ambition, (2) avarice, and (3) hypocritical external piety.
in long clothing] “Þat wolen wandre in stoolis,” Wyclif. Stoolis from Latin stola = a robe. They came out to pray in long sweeping robes, wearing phylacteries of extra size, and exaggerated tassels, hung at the corners of their talliths. Many such were doubtless to be seen at Jerusalem at this very time, who had come up to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. See note on p. 64.
love salutations] The sounding title of “Rabbi,” “Rabbi.”
And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:39. the chief seats] The seats of honour for the elders of the synagogue were placed in front of the ark containing the Law, in the uppermost part, where they sat with their faces to the people. In the synagogue at Alexandria there were seventy-one golden chairs, according to the number of the members of the Great Sanhedrim.
the uppermost rooms] Rather, the chief seats, “Þe first sitting places in soperis,” Wyclif. The highest place on the divan, as amongst the Greeks. Amongst the Romans, when a party consisted of more than three persons, it was the custom to arrange three of the couches on which they reclined round a table, so that the whole formed three sides of a square, leaving the bottom of it open for the approach of the attendants. These couches were then respectively designated lectus medius, summus, and imus. The middle place in the triclinium was considered the most dignified. At a large feast there would be many such triclinia.
Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.40. devour widows’ houses] as guardians and administrators of their property
greater damnation] “pei taken longe dom,” Wyclif. The word denotes “judgment,” “punishment.” The verb from which it comes denotes “to judge,” pass sentence, condemn. In 1 Corinthians 11:29, the words rendered damnation, discerning, judged, and condemnation, are all, in the original, parts or derivations of one and the same word; and so Wyclif admirably rendered them into the language of his day by words connected with one and the same English verb; “He that etith and drinkith vnworthili, etith and drinkith doom to him, not wisely demyng the bodi of the Lord … and if we demyden wiseli us silf we schulden not be demyd, but while we be demyd of the lord we ben chastised, that we be not dampnyd with this world.” Compare also Chaucer, Monk’s Tale, 15091,
“Dampnyd was he to deye in that prison.”
Bible Word-Book, pp. 142, 143.
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.41–44. The Widow’s Mite
41. And Jesus sat] In perfect calm and quiet of spirit after all the fierce opposition of this “day of Questions.”
the treasury] This treasury, according to the Rabbis, consisted of thirteen brazen chests, called “trumpets”, because the mouths through which the money was cast into the chest were wide at the top and narrow below. They stood in the outer “Court of the Women.” “Nine chests were for the appointed temple-tribute, and for the sacrifice-tribute, that is, money-gifts instead of the sacrifices; four chests for freewill-offerings, for wood, incense, temple-decoration, and burnt-offerings.” Lightfoot, Hor. Heb.
beheld] The imperfect tense in the original implies that He continued watching and observing the scene. “Christus in hodierno quoque cultu spectat omnes.” Bengel.
how the people] “Before the Passover, freewill offerings in addition to the temple-tax were generally presented.” Lange.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.42. a certain poor widow] One of the helpless class which He had just described as devoured by the extortion of the Scribes and Pharisees. In three words St Mark presents to us a picture of her desolation: she was alone, she was a widow, and she was poor.
two mites] “Sche sente tweye mynutis, pat is, a ferping, “Wyclif. Mite is a contraction of minute, from Lat. minutum, though Fr. mite. Thus Becon says, “let us with the poor widow of the gospel at the least give two minutes, and God will surely approve and accept our good will.” The Lepton, here mentioned, was the very smallest copper coin. Two made one Roman quadrans, which was ¼th of an as. The as in Cicero’s time = nearly a halfpenny, and the quadrans = one-eighth of a penny. This poor widow gave two, though, as Bengel remarks, she might have kept back one. She gave her “all.” “If we have regard to the origin of the expression, it argues more of presumption than humility to call any gift, as many do, however liberal, unless it were our all, a ‘mite,’ while the frequent use of the term to excuse some shabby offering which costs the donor nothing, is a remarkable example of the serene unconsciousness with which persons will sometimes pass the most bitter sarcasms upon themselves.” Davies, Bible English, p. 251.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:43. he called unto him] “De re magna. Specimen judicii olim exercendi, pro statu cordium.” Bengel.
more in, than all they] It is not said that the gifts of the others were worthless. Many possessed, no doubt, no worth (Matthew 6:1); others, a greater or a less. The greatest value, however, attached itself to her gift, because of the self-denial which it implied.
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.44. of their abundance] i. e. of their superfluity, “of þat þing þat was plenteuous to hem.” Wyclif.
she of her want] “of hir myseste sente alle þingis þat she hadde, al hir lyflode,” Wyclif. Observe all the graphic touches in the account of the widow’s mite. (i) Our Lord was sitting over against the Treasury; (ii) He was watching the people casting in their contributions; (iii) He called to Him His disciples; and (iv) He points out to them the full meaning of her act of self-denial. After this incident in the “court of the women,” and apparently while the Saviour was still there, it came to pass, that two of the Apostles, Andrew and Philip, brought to Him the “inquiring Greeks,” who had desired to see Him (John 12:20-22). No sooner did He behold these “inquirers from the West,” than He broke forth into words of mysterious joy (John 12:24-26), and presentiments of His coming Passion (John 12:27-28); after which was heard the last of the Three Heavenly Voices, attesting the true dignity of His mission (John 12:28). And so with the clear prevision that He was about to be “lifted up” upon His Cross, and, if “lifted up,” would “draw all men unto Him” (John 12:32), He prepared to leave the Temple, which He was never to enter again. His public work was over. His last counsels, His final warnings, had been delivered.