As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

The Temple (Mark 13:1-2)

The Temple was a “building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you.”1 No wonder that the disciples were in awe of this architectural wonder. The Second Temple in Jerusalem existed longer than America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been nations — 420 years. The Temple was constructed stone upon stone (Haggai 2:15). Jesus’ prophecy that it would be completely demolished would have the same shock value as if we were to say that the greatest architectural icons of our nations would be destroyed. Complete destruction such as leaving not one stone upon another was familiar in ancient warfare. As we look at the magnificent structures our countries have built, let us remember by whose grace we stand.


2 kinds of Christian (Mark 12:38-44)

Jesus reminds us of two ways of life: taking and giving. Some Christians miss the point here and think that Jesus is banning clergy clothing, public recognition, religious titles and long prayers. He is not making any such rules.  But, religious pretense can be used as a cover up for sins like self-promotion and exploitation. This is contrasted with a poor and needy woman who gave extravagantly. Most of us are probably not so selfish but also not so giving. We are somewhere in the middle. We may know of cases of theft from the church or exploiting the poor. Most of us are not like that, and not too many of us are like the widow, who gave lavishly what she could not afford. So, where do we lie between these two extremes? Are we more givers than takers?

Total Commitment (Mark 12:41-44)

Can Christians be totally committed to very faulty churches? Most Christians will eventually be offended, disappointed or deeply hurt by the church. All churches are faulty. Some people choose to leave, looking for that perfect church. Others choose like the widow. As a member of that class of people who had been abused by these faulty religious leaders, how could she not be aware of the abuses? Yet, she did not worship mere human beings. It seems that she understood something remarkable. God in his wonderful grace, chooses to work through faulty instruments and even calls the church his special treasure and his bride. Jesus revealed some of the dirty underbelly of the Jewish church and an exceptional woman who, rather than walk away, showed the total commitment of someone who focused on God behind the scenes rather than people.

The Monetized Church (Mark 12:40)

It seems that everything today is “monetized,” filled with annoying in-your-face advertising. It seems that we cannot escape the ubiquitous money-grubbing brainwashing. Even within the church there are those who have fallen prey to the false Gospel of Mammon, selling seeds of faith like merchandise, and preaching health, materialism and wealth rather than self-sacrifice. Just like certain ancient teachers of God’s law, some today are not satisfied with the offering plate. Jesus described an ancient kind of misuse of money, those who devoured widows houses. Shamelessly cheating people out of property in the name of religion is nothing new. It is just one example of many ways to use religion as a scam for personal gain, money-changers in the temple. Jesus contrasted this greed among believers with a widow who was in it to give generously and not to take.

Religious Abuse (Mark 12:40)

Historically, Christians in Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches have been involved in financial corruption from misusing indulgences to fund-raise for Saint Peter’s Basilica to the confiscation of property, often by labeling the owners as heretics. So, we cannot judge the scribes as being any worse than some people in our own Christian history. Clearly, the use of religion for selfish and abusive purposes is nothing new. Sometimes the church is the Whore of Babylon and sometimes the Bride of Christ. The scribes were actually not well off financially and relied upon the good graces of wealthy contributors so they could concentrate on their work. The potential for compromising the message is ever present. Do we focus our faith on Christ and not on the ones who flatter or coerce us, demanding that we preach what they want to hear?

Robes and Salutations (Mark 12:38-39)

Is there anything wrong with the scribes devotion to Holy Scripture, or wearing distinctive religious clothing and being greeted in public? Of course not, except when that desire is an outward show to elicit praise from men rather than pointing people to praise God. Scribes wore white to separate themselves from other people. They got in line ahead of the elderly and even their own parents. They loved titles and as they walked by, people were expected to rise respectfully. Yet, their job was not to give glory to themselves, but to God, and they failed miserably. Should we all dress in plain clothes like some Christians and avoid special titles because our job is to glorify God? Is it a matter of legalistically enforcing a dress code and avoiding religious titles, or is it a matter of the heart?

Not far From the Kingdom

The phrase there is only one God is the essence of Deuteronomy 4:35. The law expanded on the practical application of love in civic responsibility. Even simple laws like placing a fence around a flat roof were a way to show love by regarding the safety and health of others. Jesus response to a teacher’s statement, This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law, was to say that he was not far from the kingdom of God. It could be interpreted as an insult or a compliment, or both. Did Jesus mean that the man was almost there? Did he mean that he still had some way to go or that the man was closer than others? It definitely caused people to think and Jesus’ enemies were silent.

Saints and saints

The Greek hagios means reverend, holy, set apart for God. Saint John means Holy John. Every Christian is a saint (small s), someone made holy directly by the authority of heaven, whereas a Saint (capital S) is someone recognized by local tradition or authorities on earth. Until 993 AD inclusion in a list of Saints was not formalized. Then the western or Roman Catholic Church began formalizing the official list with the canonization of Ulrich of Augsburg. As an interesting aside Saint Patrick is so-called because of popularity and has never been formally canonized as a saint. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to acknowledge Saints recognized by local tradition in most cases. Many Protestants also use the term for famous saints to varying degrees. All Christians are saints, not by their own righteousness, but because God has made them holy.

The Principle of Law

Christians and Jews can trip over fastidious attention to the letter of the law. Either divine law or human interpretation which becomes religious law can be used in a legalistic way not intended by God. Then as now there are teachers who understood that the principle or spirit behind God’s law is more important than the letter. The Shema Yisrael is still a morning prayer, named after the first Hebrew words in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “shemah Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel…”) and it teaches us to “love the Lord your God.” Well-known ancient godly leaders also taught that the principle of love of neighbor summarized God’s law. Love of God and neighbor are inseparable because love of God necessitates love of those whom God loves, regardless of human differences. The love God and neighbor is God’s nature and makes us saints.

613 Commandments

A scribe asked Jesus a question. He could have been either a Pharisee or Sadducee. One of the scribes’ jobs was to make copies of the Bible by hand. The Dead Sea Scrolls, probably written from 408 BC - 318 AD, are a witness to the accuracy of the methods used by the scribes to check and recheck their copies. Asking about the most important commandment, we could assume he meant of the Ten Commandments. That may not always be the case. For example, let’s look at Mark 12:28 where Jesus was asked which is the most important of all the commandments. There are about 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact Jesus responded by not even mentioning one of the Ten Commandments, but other commandments from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, to love God and neighbor.