Online Bible Study – Mark 12:28-44

Scripture: Mark 12:28-44


We’re stepping away from our study of John and focusing instead on our reading from the Narrative Lectionary for this week.

For the first time since we began following this lectionary in September we’re going out of order. Two weeks ago the reading involved the disciples James and John asking Jesus to have the places of honour after Jesus’ death. After explaining that those who wish to be great must serve others, Jesus comes across Bartimaeus who is blind and restores his sight. Immediately after that Jesus enters Jerusalem in great triumph riding on the back of a donkey. We’ll spend more time focusing on that when we get to Palm Sunday.

The important thing to know is that our passage from Mark 12 happens after Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and after he has caused controversy by turning over the tables in the temple courtyard (Mark 11:15-17). Despite all of this Jesus remains popular with the many in the crowds and, as a result, a variety of religious officials ask him theological questions in an effort to trap him. Jesus avoids the traps in all of those cases.

That brings us to today’s reading where another religious official, a scribe this time, approaches Jesus.

Given everything that happened before we might expect this new questioner to also be out to trap Jesus, but as it turns out he isn’t. He’s there with an honest question and one that was commonly asked of Rabbis in Jesus’ day. It was a way to get at the essence of a teacher’s philosophy. Hillel the Elder (ca. B.C.E.40– C.E.10), when challenged by a Gentile to “teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot,” replied, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 31a).

This is essentially the Golden Rule and very similar to Jesus’ answer to the scribe. Jesus’ answer is one that the scribe is pleased with. Jesus and the scribe part ways with mutual respect and the exchange between them puts an end to the religious leaders’ questions to Jesus.

The author of Mark creates a nice contrast to that episode with the next section of text. Jesus returns to teaching the crowds in the temple and after a teaching that points to the nature of the Messiah in verses 35-37 Jesus goes on to denounce the scribes for being religious hypocrites who want to be honoured and go through the forms of religion without actually living it out.

We need to take this passage with a grain of salt.

Given verses 28-34, Jesus can’t actually be talking about all of the scribes here. In the first century as now there were people who acted out the commandment to love others and people who didn’t and people who were somewhere in between. Then as now there were people who sought out honour in the public sphere but didn’t act with honour in their private lives and these people were of all religions.

Finally, there is the story of the widow’s offering. The woman who puts in two small coins into the temple treasury. Jesus, witnessing this, notes that this woman has given more than the other people bringing offerings to the temple because she has so little to begin with.

You may be asking at this point why these verses are put together into one week’s reading. On the surface they don’t seem to have much in common. In the end though the second half of the section contains illustrations of the first half, of how to live it out and how not to live it out.

Below you’ll find some questions to think about. Share your thoughts by sending an email to with the subject line Bible Study – Mark 12:28-44 and we will share them in the next blog posting.

Food for Thought

  1. How do you live out the greatest commandments in your daily life? How has that changed in anyway during the last week? If so, how?
  2. Can you think of a time when you didn’t live out the greatest commandment? What were the circumstances.
  3. Imagine that you are living in the first century and that you are hearing Jesus teach for the first time? Add in as much detail as you can. What is the crowd like? How do you react to what Jesus is saying?
  4. Do you have any other questions or thoughts?