1. And He began to say to them in parables, “A man planted a vineyard, and placed a hedge around [it], and dug a wine vat, and built a tower, and let it out to farmers, and went abroad.
2. And at the time he sent to the farmers a servant, that he might receive from the farmers of the fruit of the vineyard.
3. But they, having taken him, beat [him], and sent [him] out empty.
4. And again he sent out to them another servant, and these having stoned him, they [wounded him] in the head, and sent [him] out dishonored.
5. And again he sent out another, and him they killed, and many others, indeed beating some, and killing some.
6. Therefore having yet one son, his beloved, he sent him also to them last, saying, ‘They will have respect for my son.’
7. But those farmers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’.
8. And having taken [him], they killed [him], and cast [him] out of the vineyard.
9. What then shall the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmers and will give the vineyard to others.
10. Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this has become the head of the corner;
11. This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’”
12. And they sought to take hold of Him, and they feared the crowd, for they knew that He had said the parable to them; and leaving Him, they went away.
Chapter and verse
When the gospels were originally written, they were not divided into chapters or verses.
Chapter divisions appeared for the first time in the thirteenth century, and verses began to be numbered in the sixteenth century. Ever since those times, the gospels, and the entire Bible as well, has been divided into chapters and verses. In the Gospel According to Matthew, the episode in which the religious leaders question Jesus about His authority (Matthew 21:23-27) is followed a few verses later by the parable of the wicked vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46). In Mark, however, these two episodes are more sharply divided from each other. The episode in which the religious leaders question Jesus about His authority is the final episode in chapter eleven (Mark 11:27-33), and the episode about the wicked vinedressers is the first episode of chapter twelve (Mark 12:1-12).
All this is to say that the division of the gospels into chapter and verse, while handy for locating passages and doing scholarly research, has little to do with understanding the inner meaning of the Word. In fact, these well-intentioned but sometimes arbitrary divisions can sometimes get in the way; they can lead us to believe that there is a greater separation between the episodes than there actually is. For example, even though the parable of the wicked vinedressers begins a whole new chapter in Mark, it is, in fact, seamlessly connected to the episode at the end of the previous chapter. In order to better understand this connection, we will need to take a closer look at this next episode.
The rejection of authority
At the end of the previous chapter, the religious leaders came to Jesus and questioned Him about His authority. “By what authority are You doing these things,” they said, challenging Him. It was as if they were saying, “Who do you think you are?” and “What right have you to be here, in our temple, doing these things?” As the next episode begins, Jesus tells a parable that continues the theme of authority. At first, the authority theme is somewhat shrouded in scriptural language, but by the end of the parable it becomes quite clear.
The parable begins with a man who hires a group of vinedressers to care for the vineyard he has planted. When the man goes away into a far country, he sends a servant to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard. But when the servant comes to collect the fruit, the vinedressers beat him and send him away empty-handed. Another servant is sent, but he receives worse treatment than the first servant. The second servant is pelted with stones, wounded, and sent away, being shamefully treated. Other servants are also sent, but every one of them is either badly beaten or killed.
Although Jesus does not declare it openly, it is clear that the owner of the vineyard is God, and the vineyard that He has planted is the House of God, the holy temple where the wine of truth should be shared with the people. The servants that are sent, but are rejected, wounded, and killed, represent the many prophets who were sent to the religious leaders calling them to repent of their ways and return to the Lord. Like the servants in the parable, the prophets of old were scorned, stoned, and condemned.
Finally, the owner of the vineyard sends His beloved Son, saying, “They will respect my son” (Mark 12:6). This, of course, represents Jesus’ advent into the world of space and time, and the way He is received by those who hate Him: “This is the heir,” they say. “Come let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours” (Mark 12:7).
The conduct of the wicked vinedressers represents the way each of us sometimes rejects God’s Word. We do not regard it as divine or authoritative. Instead, we treat it scornfully, either ignoring it, mocking it, or condemning it — especially when it challenges our complacency or criticizes our lifestyle. This, in brief, is our refusal to accept the Word as the authoritative voice of God in our lives. It is, so to speak, to say that “the baptism of John” — the literal truths of the Word — are not from heaven. And since they are merely from men, they have no authority in our life. We reject the voice of the prophet, the literal truths of the Word. We also reject the One who is greater than John, believing that we can somehow inherit the kingdom of God without doing the necessary work.
This rejection of authority takes place whenever we want to have it our way, living according to our own desires and not according to God’s will. At these times, we are like the wicked vinedressers who say, “Let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours.” Just as we tend to reject the divine truth, denying its authority over our lives, we reject Jesus and the truth He offers us.
This is meant by the words, “And they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard” (Mark 12:8).
This parable does not fall on deaf ears. The religious leaders who have just raised the “authority” issue in the previous episode, now get a lesson in authority through this parable. The wicked vinedressers in the parable accept no authority outside themselves. So adamant are they about maintaining their own power, they are willing to murder anyone who challenges it. Similarly, the temple priests have turned the house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves, a place where they alone are honored and have undisputed authority. In brief, they have stolen the Lord’s authority and have arrogated it to themselves.
Jesus uses this parable to warn them about their wrongdoing, and to let them know that there will be severe consequences. Jesus says, “Therefore, what will the owner of the vineyard do?” Before they can answer, Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms: “He will come and destroy the vinedressers and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:9). As we have already seen in the parable of the fig tree, this is another way of saying that the current religious establishment is about to end, and a new era of true religion is about to begin. The “vineyard” will be taken from them and “given to others.”
The religious leaders understand all too well that Jesus is talking about them. They know that Jesus is saying that just as the wicked vinedressers rejected and killed the vineyard owner’s son, they have rejected and are planning to kill Him. As it is written, “They knew He had spoken the parable against them” (Mark 12:12). Jesus then goes on to cite scripture to show them that their rejection of the Messiah was prophesied in the scriptures. “Have you not read,” says Jesus, “The stone that the builders have rejected, has become the head of the corner. This was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Mark 12:10-11).
Since this was a well-known Messianic prophecy (see Psalms 118:22-23), the religious leaders could have taken a moment to consider that this prophecy might apply to them. Instead they are further infuriated and even more determined to arrest Jesus and execute their plan to destroy Him. But they are reluctant to do so because they “feared the crowd” (Mark 12:12). In the literal sense, the only thing that stopped them from going ahead with their destructive plan was their fear of public opinion. More interiorly, however, each of us has places within us that are designed by God to recognize the truth when we hear it. These are the “crowds” that are disposed to hear what Jesus teaches and live in charity with others. These are the places in us that keep us listening, ready to accept what Jesus says and apply it to our lives. 1
There are, however, hellish places in the human mind, represented by the religious leaders who do not want to hear anything that Jesus teaches, nor do they want to accept His authority in their lives. They certainly do not want to know or believe that the confession of Jesus’ divinity is the building block of a new life. These are the hellish places in us that not only reject Jesus’ words but also desire to have Him arrested and put out of our life. But Jesus is not deterred. There is nothing that the hells can do that will prevent Jesus from building a new understanding — stone by stone and truth by truth — in the hearts and minds of all who choose to receive His words. He is, indeed, “the stone that the builders rejected.”
A Civil Question: Paying Taxes
13. And they send to Him some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch Him in [His] word.
14. And coming, they say to Him, “Teacher, we know that Thou art true, and carest for no one; for Thou lookest not to the face of men, but teachest the way of God in truth. Is it permitted to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
15. Shall we give, or shall we not give?” But He, seeing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you tempt Me? Bring Me a denarius, that I may see [it].”
16. And they brought [it]. And He says to them, “Whose [is] this image and inscription?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
17. And Jesus answering said to them, “Render the [things] of Caesar unto Caesar, and the [things] of God unto God.” And they marveled at Him.
As the divine narrative continues, the Pharisees and the Herodians approach Jesus with a question about the place of civil authority in a person’s life. “Teacher,” they say, “We know that you teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Shall we give or shall we not give?” (Mark 12:13-14).
This is a trick question designed to catch Jesus in a trap. If Jesus says “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” He would incur the wrath of the Jewish population who want to be loyal to their own community and not pay tribute to an oppressive foreign government. On the other hand, if Jesus answers, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” the Roman government would accuse Him of being a rabble-rouser and convict Him for treason.
As it is written, Jesus is aware of their “ill-intent” (Mark 12:15). Once again, instead of answering them directly, He tells them to bring Him a coin, and asks, “Whose image and inscription is this [on the coin] ?” (Mark 12:16). When they answer “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
Jesus is addressing the ever-present question, “Shall we obey the dictates of the government or the dictates of our religion?” Jesus’ answer is crystal clear: obey both. Live according to the laws of your country, and at the same time be obedient to the commandments of God. It is not a question of “either/or” for there must always be an external and an internal. The external is our physical life, which must be controlled by civil law; the internal is our spiritual life which must be controlled by spiritual law.
These two principles (physical and spiritual) become as one whenever we choose to live in the natural world according to the laws of spiritual order. In this way we render to Caesar (the external world) what belongs to Caesar, and to God (the internal world) what belongs to God. As long as the external is subordinated to the internal, there is no discrepancy. 2
It is interesting that the question about paying taxes is raised by the Pharisees, a religious group, and the Herodians, a political party identified by some scholars as “the friends of Herod.” Clearly, the question was intended to embroil Jesus in a political issue that would surely put Him in disfavor with one group or another. Jesus did not take the bait. Instead, in just a few words, He laid the foundation for what was to become in later years “the separation of church and state.”
A Religious Question: The Resurrection
18. And the Sadducees come to Him, who say [that] there is no resurrection; and they asked Him, saying,
19. “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if the brother of anyone die, and leave a wife, and leave no children, his brother should take [his] wife, and raise up seed to his brother.
20. Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a woman, and dying left no seed.
21. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed; and likewise the third.
22. And the seven took her, and left no seed; last of all the woman died also.
23. In the resurrection therefore, when they shall have risen again, whose wife shall she be of them? For the seven had her [as] a wife.”
24. And Jesus answering said to them, “Do you not therefore go astray, not having known the Scriptures, nor the power of God?
25. For when they shall have risen again from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels who are in the heavens.
26. But respecting the dead, that they are [already] risen, have you not read in the Book of Moses, how in the bramble God said to him, saying, I [am] the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
27. He is not the God of [the] dead, but [the] God of [the] living; you therefore do err much.”
The Pharisees and Herodians had asked Jesus about a civil issue: paying taxes to Caesar. It was a trick question designed to either discredit Jesus as a government sympathizer or scandalize Him as an enemy of the state. But the trick questioning did not end there. Next up were the Sadducees, another religious group at that time. Unlike the Pharisees, who believed in an afterlife, the Sadducees did not. Nevertheless, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question about the resurrection. “Teacher,” they say, “Moses wrote to us that if anyone’s brother dies and leaves a wife, and there are no children, his brother should take the wife and raise up children for his brother” (Mark 12:19). As the questioning continues, the hypothetical situation concerns a woman who married a man who died before they had children. She then married a second brother who died before they had children, then a third who also died without having children, and so on, until she had married seven brothers in succession without having children by any of them. As they conclude their question, they ask, “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as a wife’’ (Mark 12:21-23).
In order to understand the intent behind this question, it is important to return to the words that introduces this episode. As it is written, “The Sadducees came to Him, who say there is no resurrection” (Mark 12:15). For the Sadducees death was final; for them there was no such thing as life after death, an afterlife, or a resurrection. Therefore, since they did not believe in any form of immortality, they certainly didn’t believe that marriage would continue after death. In other words, their question about the seven brothers was deliberately designed to prove that the idea of an afterlife is foolish, and that Jesus’ talk about “the kingdom of heaven” was nonsense. They believed that Jesus would be unable to answer their question.
Once again, Jesus responds to their question with a counter-question: “Aren’t you making an error,” says Jesus, “not knowing the scriptures or the power of God” (Mark 12:24). Then, before giving them a chance to answer, Jesus tells them what they should have known about the two essentials of religious life: the scriptures and God: “But concerning the dead,” says Jesus, “That they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’” (Mark 12:26). Jesus said this to confirm, from the letter of the Word, which was revered by the Sadducees, that there is indeed a life after death. Jesus then drives home this point, saying, “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.” And Jesus adds, “You are [therefore] very much in error” (Mark 12:27).
The interior message
In His answer to the Sadducees, Jesus establishes that life is eternal. It is in the context of this teaching about eternal life that Jesus says, ‘‘when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25).
At first glance, this sounds like Jesus is saying “Yes, there is an afterlife; however, there are no marriages there. Instead, people are like angels who do not marry. As we have often mentioned, Jesus frequently accommodates His words to the limited. understanding of his audience — in this case, the Sadducees. It was too soon to tell them about the eternity of marriage, or that a couple who looks to the Lord can undergo an inner spiritual transformation through which they are reborn for each other and become eternal partners. It was not yet the time for that level of understanding. Jesus could only tell them what they needed to know and could grasp — that there is a life after death, and that people who rise from the dead will continue to live as angels.
These words, however, have a more interior meaning. In the spiritual sense, the scriptural words, “Those who rise from the dead” refer to those who rise from the deadness of a life focused on worldly purposes to a new life focused on heavenly purposes. These are the people who have truly “risen from the dead.” They have done this first of all by preparing themselves for the “wedding,” as a bride, by the reception of the Lord’s love and wisdom, through learning truths from the Lord’s Word. Then, they have entered into a marriage covenant with the Lord while they were on earth by living according to those truths. Therefore, they do not remarry the Lord when they enter heaven because that marriage has already taken place on earth. 3
This is what Jesus means when He seems to say that there is “no marriage in heaven.” The more interior message is that marriage between an individual and the Lord takes place while on earth through learning truth and living according to it. In heaven, a married pair are seen as “one angel,” in accordance with Jesus’ words, “When they have risen from the dead, they are neither married, nor given in marriage, but are as the angels who are in the heavens” (Mark 12:25). 4
A Final Question: Ranking the Commandments
28. And one of the scribes came, having heard them disputing [and] seeing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is [the] first commandment of all?
29. And Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments [is], Hear, O Israel; The Lord [is] our God, the Lord is one;
30. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God out of thy whole heart, and out of thy whole soul, and out of thy whole mind, and out of thy whole strength; this [is] the first commandment;
31. And [the] second [is] like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32. And the scribe said to Him, “Well [spoken], Teacher. Thou hast said the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He;
33. And to love Him out of the whole heart, and out of the whole understanding, and out of the whole soul, and out of the whole strength, and to love [one's] neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifice.”
34. And Jesus seeing him, that he answered discreetly, said to him, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared question Him any longer.
In the preceding episode, the Sadducees questioned Jesus about marriage. Knowing that their real question was not about marriage, but rather about the resurrection, Jesus showed them that the Word of God clearly teaches that there that is indeed a resurrection, and that life continues after death.
Jesus also addressed the question of marriage. This is a central topic in all of His teachings because the marriage between one man and one woman on earth corresponds to the heavenly marriage of love and wisdom in the Lord, and the marriage of good and truth within an individual. Whenever the truth that we know is joined together with the will to do it, a sacred marriage takes place. The marriage of good and truth must first take place within each individual before true marriage can take place between husband and wife. Therefore, Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder” (Mark 10:9).
For example, In the next episode, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks, “Which is the first commandment of all” (12:28.) Jesus perceives that this is yet another trap. Any effort to separate the commandments into greater and lesser ones, more important and less important, would be divisive. They should be received and lived as a whole, and not divided. For example, it is a truth that we must love the Lord, but it is also a truth that we must also love the neighbor. Which is more important? This kind of questioning could lead to a harmful separation of the commandments. Aware of this, Jesus says, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). And then, without missing a beat, Jesus adds, “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).
It should be noted that Jesus’ answer made the two commandments one. His explanation shows that they are inseparable. Moreover, He equates them with all the other commandments, saying that there is “no other commandment greater than these.” Jesus refuses to separate “what God has joined together.”
This teaching makes it clear that we must unite the two great commandments: love to the Lord and love to the neighbor, so that they become as one in our lives. We cannot fully love the Lord without loving the neighbor; nor can we fully love the neighbor without loving the Lord. The two must become as one in us. This is “spiritual marriage.” What God has joined together — loving God and loving the neighbor — must never be separated. As it is written, “If anyone says he loves the Lord and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). It is never a question of “ranking” the commandments. Rather, it is a question of seeing their seamless unity.
The scribe willingly accepts this teaching, adding that love to the Lord and to the neighbor is more important than all burnt offerings, and all sacrifices. Jesus responds with approval, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). Jesus sees that the man is on the right path, and headed in the right direction. He has grasped the idea that heaven cannot be attained through rituals and animal sacrifices, but only through love to God and love to the neighbor. The man’s understanding is correct. At the moment, he is “not far” from the kingdom of God. And when he begins to live according to his beliefs, he will have a living experience of that kingdom.
Jesus silences His questioners
Jesus has been bombarded with questions, each question being another attempt to challenge His authority. First, the chief priests raised the question about the baptism of John. Then the Pharisees and Herodians came with a trick question about paying taxes to Caesar. Next, the Sadducees came with their insincere question about marriage after death. Every question was intended to trap Jesus and to reveal some fallacy in teaching. But each time He was questioned, Jesus responded with answers that served to reveal His wisdom, silence His questioners, and demonstrate His authority. The common people who heard Him were amazed. All attempts of the religious leaders to trap Jesus, however well planned, had backfired.
Finally, the scribe who had observed the whole series of questions begins by noting that Jesus had “answered them well” (Mark 12:38). Then, when the scribe asked his own question about the “greatest commandment,” Jesus culminated His series of responses with an insight that goes to the heart of faith — one which no religious official would dare refute. In brief, Jesus’ insight boils down to this: love to the Lord and love to the neighbor cannot be divided. Moreover, they are far greater than “all burnt offerings and all sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). To live according to these commandments is to experience the kingdom of God.
No matter what angle the religious leaders chose, they were unable to find a question that could stump Jesus. Each time, in a different way, Jesus was able to show that what God has joined together cannot be divided. In the question about taxation, Jesus showed that there is no division between civil responsibility and religious duty “Render unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” He said. In the question about marriage after death, Jesus not only showed that there is indeed a resurrection, and but also laid the foundation for the more interior teaching that spiritual marriage is the marriage that takes place on earth between an individual and the Lord. Then, when the scribe came to Jesus with a question about the greatest commandment, Jesus showed that Love to the Lord is inseparable from love to the neighbor. Every attempt to trap Jesus had failed. Therefore, this series of episodes ends, most appropriately with the words, “After that no one dared question Him” (Mark 12:34).
Jesus Raises a Question
35. And answering, Jesus said, teaching in the temple, “How say the scribes that the Christ is the son of David?”
36. For David himself said in the Holy Spirit, “The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit Thou on My right hand, till I put Thine enemies [as] a footstool of Thy feet.'
37. David therefore himself calls Him ‘Lord’; and whence is He his Son?” And the numerous crowd heard Him with pleasure.
Demonstrating divine wisdom, Jesus answered all questions put to Him and temporarily silenced His opposition. Now Jesus raises a question of His own: “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?” He asks. “Is He the Son of David or the Son of God?” (Mark 12:35).
If Jesus is merely the Son of David, He is a human being and not divine. But in the psalms King David prophesied that the coming Messiah would not be his son, but rather his Lord. As Jesus says, “David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord [Jehovah] said to my Lord [referring to the Messiah] ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (Mark 12:35).
The wording of the psalm is significant. It says that when the Messiah comes, He will not only sit at God’s right hand, but also that the Messiah’s enemies will be subjugated so thoroughly that they will become the Messiah’s “footstool.” The picture that is given is of a victorious king who has brought the enemy into such submission that it now lies prostrate before him, as a mere footstool upon which he props up his feet. This, of course, is an image of how the Messiah would not only conquer but also subjugate hell, so that hellish influences could never again could rule over people, possess them, or make them subject to their will. 5
This is the hope of all good people. It is the hope that a loving God will reign in their midst, restraining the violence and fury of the hells. But this can only take place through someone who possesses Divine Power, not just human power. In other words, the coming Messiah must be more that David’s son; He must be David’s Lord. As Jesus says, “Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son? (Mark 12:37).
Jesus has been giving the religious leaders Messianic prophecy after Messianic prophecy to indicate that He is indeed the prophesied Messiah, but they refuse to listen. Just as they did not believe that He is “the stone that the builders rejected” — the cornerstone of a new life — they do not believe that Jesus is the one whom King David referred to, in the spirit, as “My Lord.” But the crowds are getting the message. As it written at the end of this brief episode, “And the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37).
The Importance of Humility
38. And He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk [about] in robes, and [desire] greetings in the marketplaces,
39. And the first seats in synagogues, and the first places to recline at suppers;
40. Who eat up widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; these shall receive all the more judgment.”
The preceding episode ends with the words, “the common people heard Him gladly.” Spiritually, this refers to a place within each of us that is represented by the phrase “the common people.” It is similar to what we said about “the crowd.” Both “the common people” and “the crowd” in this context represent a place of simple trust in the Lord. It is the willingness to be led by Him, together with an appreciative acceptance of our place and our duties in this world. It understands that there is no difference between believing well and doing well and that, in fact, these two aspects of spiritual life are one and the same. 6
When we join faith and charity in this way, our primary focus is on serving others, rather than on being served, or honored. Jesus is therefore, not only speaking to the common people but also to that place of simple goodness in each of us that might be led astray by the desire to be honored and esteemed. These ignoble desires are represented by the religious leaders and scribes who desire recognition and glory. “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes,” says Jesus. “They love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in synagogues, and the best places at feasts” (Mark 12:38-39).
The scribes, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, wanted to be honored and esteemed. In order to achieve their goal, they falsified the scriptures, teaching them in ways that enhanced their self-esteem and overemphasized the importance of priestly work. Consequently, in biblical times, good people were left without any genuine truth — just as widows who lost their husbands in those times were left without protection. This is the inner meaning of Jesus’ words, “They devour widow’s houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40).
This is a warning for each of us. The distraction of worldly honor and social prestige can lead us away from God. Even as King David acknowledged that the savior would not be his son, but rather his Lord, we too, should not forget — whether we are kings or commoners — that Jesus is Lord. He is not just the son of David, but the Son of God. Whenever we are led astray by the inordinate need for praise and glory, we are like those corrupt religious leaders, who led astray the poor widows of olden days. Corrupt impulses invade our minds, eating away at all that is good and true, all the while pretending to be pious and righteous. These are the rationalizations and justifications that support our negative states. As Jesus puts it, “They devour widow’s houses and for a pretense make long prayers.” 7
Jesus sternly warns against allowing these negative influences to invade our mind. Although we might receive the honor and recognition we crave while on earth, our self-serving ways will eventually lead to the destruction of our souls, especially if we pervert the truths of religion to achieve selfish ambitions. As Jesus puts it, “These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40).
A Poor Widow
41. 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.
42. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
43. 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:
44. 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.
By contrast, in the episode that follows, Jesus focuses on the state of a poor widow — a woman without a husband. In the previous episode we heard that the religious leaders “devoured widow’s houses,” that is, they deprived widows not only of their worldly wealth, but also of spiritual truth. The widow in this episode represents the state in us that is deprived of truth but nevertheless longs for it, even as a widow grieves for her lost husband.
The scene opens with Jesus sitting “opposite the treasury,” and observing the people who are putting money into the temple collection box. He watches in silence until He notices that “one poor widow came and threw in two mites” (Mark 12:42).
The widow’s contribution does not amount to much. A mite was the smallest, least valuable roman coin, worth less than a penny. But it is everything the poor woman has. Therefore, Jesus says, “Assuredly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:43-44).
In sacred scripture, because a “widow” is a woman without a husband, this term represents an affection that is longing to be united with truth. This sincere longing for something she has lost is represented by her poverty — the impoverishment of no longer knowing what is true. And yet, she would give everything to gain this wisdom, her whole livelihood.
Without the truth of God’s Word in our lives, we are all spiritual “widows” whose minds (“houses”) have been devoured by false teachings. Whenever we are in this state of “widowhood,” we need the truth that will protect and guide all that is good in us. This longing for truth is represented by the widow in the parable. 8
In this episode, Jesus has warned us to “Beware of the scribes who desire to go around in long robes … who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.” Through these words, Jesus speaks to each of us about our tendency to be led astray by the false teachings of “inner scribes” who desire to devour our minds and turn them into desolate, poverty-stricken places. However, if we long for the truth, even as the poor widow who “gave all that she had,” that which is good in us (“the widow”) will receive all the truth it desires. But we must desire those truths with our whole heart and give it everything we have — our “whole livelihood.”
1. Arcana Coelestia 7975: “A ‘crowd’ … [signifies those] who live in obedience and in charity with one another even though they do not have the Word.” See also Arcana Coelestia 4269: “People who are in simple good from simple faith have the capability of knowing these things…. In the afterlife, when worldly and bodily things are removed, they are [further] enlightened and come into angelic intelligence and wisdom.”
2. Arcana Coelestia 3913:4: “The state of the natural self and that of the spiritual self are opposed to each other when they have different purposes. However, these purposes can be connected when the purposes of the external self are made subordinate and subservient to the purposes of the internal self. In order therefore that a person may become spiritual, it is necessary for the things of the external self to be reduced to compliance. This means that that any purpose which favors the loves of self and the world [above the neighbor and the Lord’s kingdom] must be put off, and the purposes which favor loving the neighbor and the Lord’s kingdom [above one’s self and the world] must be put on.”
3. Conjugial Love 41: “Conjunction with the Lord is achieved on earth. and when it has been achieved on earth, it has also been achieved in heaven. Therefore, in heaven the marriage does not take place again, nor are people given in marriage…. Such persons are also called by the Lord, ‘children of the wedding,’ ‘angels,’ ‘children of God,’ and ‘children of the resurrection.’ To marry means to be conjoined with the Lord, and to go to a wedding means to be received into heaven by the Lord.”
4. Conjugial Love 50: “In heaven a couple are not called two, but one angel. This is what is meant by the Lord’s words, that they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
5. Apocalypse Explained 687:8: “The words, ‘The Lord said to my Lord,’ signify the Divine itself, which is called the Father, [speaking] to the Divine Human, who is the Son. The words, ‘Sit at My right hand,’ signifies Divine Power, or Omnipotence by means of Divine Truth. The words, ‘until I make Your enemies the footstool of Your feet,’ signifies until the hells are conquered and subjugated, and until the evil are cast into them. The ‘enemies’ means the hells, thus the evil, and ‘the footstool of the feet’ signifies the lowest region under the heavens, under which are the hells. The Lord, while in the world, was Divine Truth, to which belongs omnipotence, and by means of which He conquered and subjugated the hells.”
6. Heaven and Hell 364: “I have sometimes talked with those belonging to the peasantry and common people, who, while living in the world, believed in God and did what was just and right in their occupations. Since they had an affection for knowing truth, they inquired about charity and about faith…. They were told that charity is everything that pertains to life, and faith everything that pertains to doctrine; consequently, charity is willing and doing what is just and right in every work, and faith is thinking justly and rightly…. And faith becomes charity when that which a person thinks justly and rightly is also what one wills and does. When this happens, faith and charity are no longer two but one. They understood this well, and they rejoiced, saying that in the world they did not understand ‘believing’ to be anything else except ‘living.’”
7. Arcana Coelestia 4844:10: “And because depriving others of goods and truths and appropriating them to self for the sake of self-honor and gain was among those curses, the Lord said: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers … ‘devouring widows’ houses’ means taking away truths from those who desire them, and teaching falsities.”
8. Conjugial Love 325: “A widow can [no longer] protect herself and her home … because when she was a wife, the husband was her defense and, as it were, her arm…. This external condition has its origin in an internal spiritual cause … namely, that good cannot provide for or regulate anything save by truth, that good cannot protect itself save by truth, and that truth, therefore, is the defense and, as it were, the arm of good. Good without truth is lacking in deliberation, for it has deliberation, wisdom and prudence by means of truth.”