Connections 11.11.2018: Heaven’s Head Table

Mark 12:35-44

When we all get to heaven and sit down for the homecoming banquet (I hope there’s fried chicken, because you know it would be the best fried chicken), I suspect we’ll be surprised at who is sitting at the head table. I further suspect that those sitting there will be more surprised than anybody else.

I’m not saying that the people we might expect to sit at the head table won’t be in the banquet hall. I am saying that they might have worse seats than they or we anticipate they will have.

(Let’s pause a moment to consider how good we think our seats will be. I hope there’s a chicken wing left when the platter gets all the way down to where I’ll be. Okay, let’s proceed.)

The reason I say we’ll be surprised at who is at the head table is that Jesus’ standards just seem to be so much different than ours.

Picture him at the temple, sitting across from the large receptacles into which people are placing their offerings. Is anyone else watching? If they are, don’t you suspect they notice the rich people putting in their large gifts? And don’t you think that maybe some of those rich people give their large gifts in order to be seen giving them?

Jesus sees them. But the only thing he says about them is that their giving isn’t all that impressive, given that it puts just a small dent in their brokerage accounts and real estate holdings.

Forget giving until it hurts; they barely give until it tickles.

But Jesus’ eyes light up when he sees the widow put in her penny. Her giving is impressive even though her gift is tiny. Her commitment is huge because her sacrifice is genuine.

Jesus is so moved by the widow’s sacrifice that he gathers his disciples around him to tell them about her. He wants them—he wants us—to learn from her that it is the commitment behind the sacrifice behind the gift that matters. He also wants them and us to learn that the seemingly smallest and most insignificant gift—and person—can be the most valuable.

I have a feeling that those big givers won’t be at the head table at the messianic banquet. I also have a feeling that the widow will be.

I have a further feeling that no one will be more shocked at this development than she will.


1. Why do you think “the large crowd was listening to him with delight” (v. 37)?
2. Who in our time needs to hear Jesus’ warnings about the scribes? Why?
3. Why might the scribes who live in the ways Jesus criticizes “receive the greater condemnation” (v. 40)?
4. Based on what Jesus says in verses 43-44, how would you describe the “economics of God’s kingdom”?
5. If the widow gave everything she had, her offering left her destitute. Does the Lord expect us to give until we have nothing?

Reference Shelf

Jesus frequently calls the disciples (and at times the crowd) to teach them (3:13, 23; 6:7; 7:14; 8:1, 34; 10:42). This pericope is a pronouncement story that frames Jesus’ saying in 12:43-44. Thirteen times in Mark Jesus begins a saying with the solemn formula, “Amen, I say to you” (see the commentary on 3:28). Jesus identifies the woman as poor and a widow, probably from her dress. The designation “poor” carried with it not only socioeconomic status; at times it also carried with it the connotation of piety (cf. Matt 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas 2:1-7; and see the commentary on 10:21; 14:5, 7). Jesus’ pronouncement may be understood either as a commendation of the widow for her giving with no thought for herself or as a keen observation of what has just taken place—and perhaps it is both. Jesus does not explicitly commend the widow or say that she is blessed. Instead, he points out that measured by what one has left after making an offering, she gave far more than the wealthy who made large gifts. She gave all she had. They gave out of their abundance, excess, or overflow. She gave out of her lack or need. Jesus describes her gift in two ways: “everything she had,” and, literally, “her whole livelihood/life.” The term bios can have both meanings. Francis Moloney comments, “The double meaning is intended, for in doing one she had done the other.” In contrast to the disciples who have been seeking personal gain (9:34; 10:23-31, 35-45), the widow has fulfilled Jesus’ teachings on discipleship (8:35-37; 10:45). Like other minor characters in Mark (the paralytic’s friends, the woman with the hemorrhage, the father of the epileptic boy, and Bartimaeus), the widow is an exemplary figure.

She is also a tragic figure. In her devotion, she has left herself destitute. Seen from this perspective, she is the final witness in the case against the temple. The chief priests and the Jerusalem scribes “devour widows’ houses” (12:40). They have made the temple a “den of robbers” (11:17; cf. 11:18). Now, God will destroy their “house.”

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 428-30.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.


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  1. Trudy Shuford says

    Reference Shelf has “see the commentary on 3:28.’ Where do I find that commentary?

    • Nikki Browning says

      Thank you for your interest in our Bible commentary on Mark. I have emailed you the link on where to find it. If I can be of more assistance, please let me know.

      Nikki Browning