Pulpit Commentary - Mark 12:1 - 12:44

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Pulpit Commentary - Mark 12:1 - 12:44

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And he began to speak unto them in parables. This particular parable which follows was specially directed against the scribes and Pharisees; but it was uttered in the presence of a multitude of the people. "He began to speak … in parables." He had not used this form of instruction till now in Jerusalem. A man planted a vineyard. The imagery of the parable would be familiar to them from Isaiah (Isa_5:1). But Palestine was eminently a land of "vineyards," as well as of "oil olives." The man who planted the vineyard is no other than God himself. "Thou hast brought a vine" out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it." The imagery is specially appropriate. No property was considered to yield so rich a return as the vineyard, and none required such unceasing care and attention. The vine represents the kingdom of God in its idea and conception; not the Jewish Church in particular. The owner of this vineyard had himself made it. He had "planted it." This planting took place in the establishment of the Jewish polity in the land of Canaan, when the heathen were cast out. He set a hedge about it. This and the following descriptions are not mere ornaments of the parable. The "hedge" was an important protection to the vineyard. It might be a wall or a "quick hedge," a living fence. The vineyards in the East may now be seen often with a strong hedge planted round them. Such hedges, made of the prickly cactus, are to be seen at this day in the neighborhood of Joppa. Figuratively, this hedge would represent the middle wall of partition which then existed between the Jew and the Gentile; and in this, their separation from the idolatrous nations around them, lay the security of the Jews that they should enjoy the continued protection of God. It is well remarked by Archbishop Trench that the geographical position of Judaea was figurative of this, the spiritual separation of the people—guarded as Judaea was eastward by the river Jordan and its chain of lakes, northward by Antilibanus, southward by the desert and Idumaea, and westward by the Mediterranean Sea. Digged a place for the winepress ( ληνός torcular); the words are literally, digged a pit for the winepress ( ὤρυξεν ὑπολήνιον ); the digging could only apply to the pit, a place hollowed out and then fitted with masonry. Sometimes these pits were formed out of the solid rock. Examples of these are frequent in Palestine. There were usually two pits hollowed out of the rock, one sloping to the other, and with openings between them. The grapes were placed in the upper pit; and the juice, crushed out by the feet of men, flowed into the lower pit, from whence it was taken out and put into wine-skins. "I have trodden the winepress alone." And built a tower. The tower ( πύργον ) was probably the watch-tower, where a watchman was placed to guard the vineyard from plunderers. Particular directions are given in the rabbinical writings (see Lightfoot) for the dimensions both of the winepress and of the tower. The tower was to be ten cubits high and four cubits square. It is described as "a high place, where the vine-dresser stands to overlook the vineyard." Such towers are still to be seen in Palestine, especially in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, of Hebron, and in the vine-growing districts of Lebanon. And let it out to husbandmen. The husbandmen would be the ordinary stated teachers of the people, though not excluding the people themselves. The Jewish nation in fact, both the teachers and the taught, represented the husbandmen, each member of the Church, then as now, being required to seek the welfare of the whole, body. And went into a far country ( καὶ ἀπεδήμηδε ); literally, and went into another country. St. Luke (Luk_20:9) adds ( χρόνους ἱκανούς ), "for a long time."


And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruits of the vineyard
. St. Matthew (Mat_21:34
) says he sent "his servants." St. Mark mentions them in detail. These servants were the prophets, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, whom the Jews persecuted and slew in different ways, as the reprovers of their vices. But the mercy of God was long-suffering, and still triumphed over their wickedness. In his account of this parable St. Mark is very minute. The first servant that was sent received no fruit, and was beaten. The second received much worse usage. According to the Authorized Version the words are, At him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled ( κἀκεῖνον λιθοβολήσαντες ἐκεφαλαίωσαν καὶ ἀπέστειλαν ἠτιμωμένον ). The word λιθοβολήσαντες is, however, not to be found in the best authorities; and the right reading of the next word is apparently ἐκεφαλίωσαν a very unusual word; but the context makes it plain that it expresses some injury done to the head. The other form of the word is usual enough; but it ordinarily signifies "a summing up," "a gathering up into a head." And handled shamefully ἠτιμωμένον ); literally, dishonored. The third messenger they killed outright. The words run. And him they killed; and many others; beating some, and killing some. The construction here is incomplete, although the meaning is plain. The complete sentence would be, "And him they killed; and they did violence to many others, beating some and killing some."


Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved
. There is strong evidence in favor of a different reading here: namely ( ἔτι ἕνα εἰχεν υἱὸν ἀγαπητὸν ), he had yet one, a beloved son. There is something very touching in this form of expression. Many messages had been sent; many means had been tried. But one other resource remained. "There is one, a beloved on. I will send him; they will, surely reverence him ( ἐντραπήσονται τὸν υἰόν μου ). They will reflect, and reflection will bring shame and submission and reverence." This was the last effort of Divine mercy—the sending of the Incarnate God, whom the Jews put to death without the city. St. Mark's words seem rather to imply that they killed him within the vineyard, and cast out the dead body. But it is possible that in his narrative he mentions the climax first—they killed him, and then returns to a detail of the dreadful tragedy; they cast him out of the vineyard, and there slew him (See Mat_21:39


What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do?
In St. Matthew's narrative the scribes answer this question. St. Luke, as St. Mark here, assigns the answer to our Lord. It would seem probable that the scribes first answered him, and that then he himself repeated their answer, and confirmed it by his looks and gesture; so that from thence, as well as from what followed, they might sufficiently understand that he spake these things of them. Then, according to St. Luke (Luk_20:16
), they subjoined the words, "God forbid!" an expression wrung from their consciences, which accused them and told them that the parable applied to them. Here, then, we have a distinct prediction of the rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles.

Mar_12:10, Mar_12:11

This quotation is from Psa_118:22
, where David prophesies of Christ. The meaning is plainly this, that the chief priests and scribes, as the builders of the Jewish Church, rejected Christ from the building as a useless stone; yea, more—they condemned and crucified him. They rejected him ( ἀπεδοκίμασαν ). The verb in the Greek implies that the stone was first examined and then deliberately refused. But this stone, thus disallowed and set at nought by the builders, was made the head of the corner. The image here is different from that used in the Epistles, where Christ is spoken of as the chief Corner-stone in the foundation. Here he is represented as the Corner-stone in the cornice. In real truth he is both. He is the tried Foundation-stone. But he is also the Head of the corner. In the great spiritual building he is "all and in all," uniting and binding together all in one. This was the Lord's doing ( παρὰ Κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη ); literally, this was from the Lord. The feminine ( αὔτη ) refers apparently to κεφαλή . This lifting up of the despised and rejected stone to be the Corner-stone of the cornice was God's work; and was a fitting object for wonder and praise.


The scribes and Pharisees knew, partly from the words of this psalm, and partly from the looks of Christ, that they were spoken against them. So they sought in their rage and malice to lay hold on him; but they feared the people, with whom he was still popular. Thus, however, by his rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, he prepared the way for that death which, within three days, they brought upon him. And the counsel of God was fulfilled for the redemption of men by the blood of Christ.

Mar_12:13, Mar_12:14

St. Matthew (Mat_22:15
) tells us that "the Pharisees took counsel how they might ensnare him ( ὅπως αὐτὸν παγιδεύσωσιν ) in his talk;" namely, by proposing to him captious and insidious questions, which, in whatever way he might answer them, might expose him to danger. On this occasion they enlisted the Heredians to join them in their attack upon him. These Herodians were a sect of the Jews who supported the house of Herod, and were in favor of giving tribute to the Roman Caesar. They were so called at first from Herod the Great, who was a great supporter of Caesar. Tertullian, St. Jerome, and others say that these Herodiaus thought that Herod was the promised Messiah, because they saw that in him the scepter had departed from Judah (Gen_49:10). Herod encouraged these flatterers, and so put to death the infants at Bethlehem, that he might thus get rid of Christ, lest any other than himself might be regarded as Christ. They said at it was on this account that he rebuilt the temple with so much magnificence. The Pharisees took, of course, altogether the other side, and stood forward as the supporters of the Law of Moses and of their national freedom. So, in order that they might ensnare him, they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, and in the most artful manner proposed to him, apparently in good faith, a question which answer it how he might, would, as they hoped, throw him upon the horns of a dilemma. If he said that tribute ought to be given to Caesar, he would expose himself to the malice of the Jewish people, who prided themselves upon their freedom. If, on the other hand, he said that tribute ought not to be given to Caesar, he would incur the wrath of Caesar and of the Roman power.

Mar_12:15, Mar_12:16

St. Matthew (Mat_22:18
) says, "But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?' You pretend that you are approaching me with a good conscience, sincerely desirous to know how you ought to act in this matter; when at the same time you are enemies alike of me and of God, and are thirsting for my blood, and are doing all in your power to torment me, and to entangle me by fraud. "The first virtue," says St. Jerome, "of the respondent is to know the mind of the questioner, and to adapt his answer accordingly." These Pharisees and Heredians flatter Christ that they may destroy him; but he rebukes them, that, if possible, be might save them. Bring me a penny, that I may see it. The Roman denarius was equal to about eight-pence halfpenny. This was the coin in which the tribute money was to be paid. It had stamped upon it the image of Tiberius Caesar, the then reigning Roman emperor. The cognomen of Caesar was first given to Julius Caesar, from whom it was devolved to his successors. The current coin of the country proved the subjection of the country to him whose image was upon it. Maimonides, quoted by Dr. John Lightfoot, says, "Wheresoever the money of any king is current, there the inhabitants acknowledge that king for their lord."


Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's
. It is as though our Lord said, "Since you Jews are now subject to Caesar—and there is here this evidence of it, that his coin is current amongst you; you would not use it were you not obliged, because all Gentile rites and symbols are an abhorrence to you;—but since Caesar demands nothing of you but his tribute—the coin stamped with his own image and name—it is your duty to render to him his own denarius for tribute. But spiritual things, such as worship and obedience, give these to God; for these he demands from you as his right, and by so doing you will offend neither God nor yet Caesar." Our Lord, in his infinite wisdom, avoids the question altogether whether the Jews were rightly in subjection to the Romans. This was a doubtful question. But there could be no doubt as to the fact that they were tributary. This was made plain by the evidence of the current coin. Now, this being so, it was manifestly the duty of the Jewish people to give to Caesar the tribute money which he demanded of them for the expenses of government, and especially of supporting an army to defend them from their enemies. And it was no less their duty to give their tribute to God, which he in his own right demanded of them as his creatures and faithful subjects. The rights of Caesar are one thing, and those of God are another; and there is nothing that need clash between them. State polity is not opposed to religion, nor religion to state. Tertullian says, "'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's;' that is, give to Caesar his image stamped upon his coin, and give to God his own image stamped upon you; so that while you render to Caesar the coin which is his due, you may render your own self to God." This wonderful answer of our Lord teaches us that we ought to try to speak so wisely, and so to moderato our speech amongst those who are captious, that we may, if possible, offend neither side, but steer safely between Scylla and Charybdis. And they marvelled at him. The true Greek reading of the verb here is not ἐθαύμασαν , but ἐξεθαύμαζον , they marvelled greatly at him; they stood marvelling greatly at him. They marvelled at his wisdom and skill in extricating himself so readily out of this net in which they had hoped to entangle him. Indeed, the words of the psalmist (Psa_9:15
) were verified in them: "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands." He vaulted over the trap set for him, leaving them entangled in it. He lifted up the question far above the petty controversy of the hour, and affirmed a great principle of natural and religious obligation which belongs alike to all times and persons and places.


And there come unto him Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection.
Josephus states that in the time of Judas Maceabaeus there were three sects of the Jews, differing amongst themselves, namely, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Hebrew word Zadoc, from which the Sadducees derive their name, means "just." or" righteous." These Sadducees accepted the Pentateuch, and probably more than the Pentateuch; but they rejected any oral tradition. They were known in the time of our Lord as denying those doctrines which connect us more immediately with another world, such as the existence of spirits and of angels, and the resurrection of the body. They altogether denied fate, affirming that all things are in our own power. They heard Christ preach the resurrection, and by means of it persuade men to repentance and a holy life. They therefore proposed to him a question which appeared to them to be fatal to the doctrine of a future state and a resurrection. The case supposed is that of seven brethren, who, in compliance with the Law of Moses, one after another, as each died in succession, took the same woman to wife. It is probable that such a case may actually have occurred; at any rate, it was a possible case. And the question founded upon it by the Sadducees was this—Whose wife would she be of them in the resurrection? Here, then, they hoped to entangle him, and to show that the doctrine of the resurrection was absurd. For if our Lord should say that in the resurrection she would be the wife of one only, the other brethren would have been excited to envy and continual strife. Nor could he have said that she would be common to the seven brothers. Such were the absurdities which, as they intimated, would flow out of his doctrine of the resurrection, if it could be proved. But our Lord scatters to the winds all this foolish reasoning, by adding one clause omitted by them, and overlooked by men of mere earthly minds, namely, that in the world to come this widow would be the wife of none of the seven brethren.


These Sadducees erred in two ways:

(1) They did not know or remember the Scriptures, such as that in Job (Job_21:25
), "I know that my Redeemer liveth," etc., or in Isaiah (Isa_26:19), "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise;" or in Daniel (Dan_12:2), "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake," etc.

(2) They did not know the power of God, namely, that he can raise the bodies of the dead again to life, even as at first he created them out of nothing; for a greater power is required to make that to be which was not, than to make that again to be which once was. But then the resurrection life will be a new life, spiritual, glorious, eternal, like that of the angels.

So in these words our Lord struck at the double root of the error of the Sadducees:

(1) ignorance of the Scriptures, which plainly teach the resurrection; and

(2) ignorance of the power of God, which led them to interpret these Scriptures, which speak of the resurrection, to mean only a mystical resurrection from vice to virtue.


But are as angels in heaven
—not "the angels;" the οἱ is omitted. The blessed, after the resurrection, will be like angels as to purity, as to a spiritual life, as to immortality, as to happiness and glory. There will be no necessity for marriages in heaven. Here, on earth, the father dies, but he lives on in his children after death. In heaven there is no death, but every one will live and be blessed for ever; and therefore it is that St. Luke adds here, "Neither can they die any more." St. Augustine says, "Marriages are on account of children; children on account of succession; succession on account of death. But in heaven, as there is no death, neither is there any marriage."


St. Mark is here careful to state that what St. Matthew describes as "the word spoken by God" was to be found in the book of Moses (Exo_3:5
), in the place concerning the Bush ( ἐπὶ τῆς βάτου ), as it is correctly rendered in the Revised Version. Our Lord might have brought yet clearer proofs out of Job, Daniel, Ezekiel, etc.; but in his wisdom he preferred to allege this out of Moses and the Pentateuch, because, whatever the views of the Sadducees may have been as to other parts of the Old Testament, these books of Moses they readily acknowledged. I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The force of the argument is this, that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Their souls are still alive; and if these patriarchs are still alive, there will be a resurrection. If men are to live for ever, they will, sooner or later, live again in the completeness of their being, namely, of body and soul and spirit. Our Lord would, therefore, say this: "In a few days you will put me to death; but in three days I shall rise again from the dead. And after that, in due time I shall raise them from the dead at the last day, and bring them in triumph with me into heaven." The Sadducees and the Epicureans denied the resurrection, because they denied the immortality of the soul; for these two doctrines hang together. For if the soul is immortal, then, since it naturally depends upon the body, it is necessary that the body should rise. Otherwise the soul would continue to exist in a dislocated state, and would only obtain a divided life and an imperfect existence. Hence our Lord here distinctly proves the resurrection of the body from the immortality of the soul. When he speaks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he does not speak of their souls only, but of their whole being. Therefore, though they are for a time dead to us, yet they live to God, and sleep, as it were, because ere long God will raise them from death, as from a sleep, to a blessed and endless life. For all, though they have passed out of our sight, still live to him.


Ye therefore do greatly err
. The Greek is, omitting the οὖν , simply ὑμεῖς πολὺ πλανᾶσθε , Ye greatly err. The omission is more consistent with St. Mark's usual style. The Sadducees entirely misunderstood the meaning of their own Scriptures.


St. Matthew (Mat_22:34
) says here that the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together, and that then one of them, who was a lawyer ( νομίνος ), that is, "a scribe," asked him this question, What commandment is the first of all? It appears here from St. Mark that this scribe had been present at the discussion with the Sadducees, and he had probably informed the others of what had taken place, and of the wisdom and power of our Lord's answer; so he was naturally put forward to try our Lord with another crucial question. It does not necessarily appear that he had an evil intention in putting this question. He may, in his own mind (seeing the wisdom and skill of our Lord), have desired to hear what Christ had to say to a very difficult question on a matter deeply interesting to all true Hebrews. The question was one much mooted amongst the Jews in the time of our Lord. "For many," says Beds, "thought that the first commandment in the Law related to offerings and sacrifices, with regard to which so much is said in Leviticus, and that the right worship of God consisted in the due offering of these." On this account the Pharisees encouraged children to say "Corban" to their parents; and hence this candid and truth-loving scribe, when he heard our Lord's answer about the love of God and of our neighbor, said that such obedience was worth "more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." With regard to the love of God, St. Bernard says, "The measure of our love to God is to love him without measure; for the immense goodness of God deserves all the love that we can possibly give to him."


Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself
. God is to be loved above everything—above all angels, or men, or any created thing. But after God, amongst created things, our neighbor is above all to be loved. And we are to extend to our neighbor that kind of love with which we love ourselves. Our love of ourselves is not a frigid love, but a sincere and ardent love. In like manner we should love our neighbour, and desire for him all those good things both for the body and for the soul that we desire for ourselves. This is what our Lord himself teaches us. "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, even so do unto them." There is none other commandment greater than these. St. Matthew (Mat_22:40
) says, "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the prophets." There is no commandment greater than these, because all the precepts of the Divine Law are included in them. So that our Lord here teaches us that we ought continually to have these two precepts in our minds and before our eyes, and direct all our thoughts and words and actions by them, and regulate our whole life according to them.


The first words of this verse should be rendered thus: Of a truth, Master, thou hast well said that he is one. In the remainder of the scribe's answer we find a different word used in the Greek for" mind," or "understanding," from that just used by our Lord. In our Lord's answer the word is διάνοια . Here it is σύνεσις . Both words are well rendered by "understanding." It is an act of understanding. It is the thought associating itself with the object, and "standing under" it so as to support it.


Is more
( περισσότερόν )—according to the most approved reading, more—than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. This scribe was evidently emerging out of the bondage of ceremonial things, and perceiving the supremacy of the moral law.


And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly
( νουνεχῶς ), he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. It would appear from this answer that our Lord regarded him as one who approached him with the sincere desire to know the truth, and so he encouraged him. This shows how powerful an influence our Lord's teaching had already exercised amongst all classes of the Jews. This scribe, notwithstanding the prejudices of his class, had reached the border-land of the kingdom. He had learnt that the true way to the kingdom was by the love of God and of our neighbor. He was not far from the kingdom—not far from "the Church militant here on earth," by which is the way to the Church triumphant in heaven. He was not far from the kingdom, but still he wanted that which in the true pathway to the kingdom—faith in Christ as the Savior of the world. And no man after that durst ask him any question. St. Matthew (Mat_22:46
) places these words after the next occurrence. But there is no inconsistency in the two narratives, because in this next incident our Lord puts the question to them; and this silenced both their questioning and their answering. All felt that there was such a vast reach of wisdom and knowledge in all that he said, that it was in vain to contend with him.


Our Lord was now in the temple, and he took the opportunity for instructing the scribes and Pharisees concerning his person and his dignity. Thus, as ever, he returned good for evil. He here taught them that the Messiah was not a mere man, as they supposed, but that he was i both God and man, and that therefore they ought not to wonder or to be offended because he called himself the Son of God. St. Matthew (Mat_22:42
) more fully gives their answer first, namely, that "Christ is the Son of David." They should have said that, as God, he was the Son of God, according to those words, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;" but that, as man, he was the Son of David. Their answer was very different from that of Peter: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." But they wanted the Divine knowledge which the disciples had gained.


The Lord said unto my Lord
. From this verse (Psa_110:1-7
.) our Lord shows that the Messiah, such as he was, was not a mere man, as the Pharisees thought, but that he was God, and therefore David's Lord. The meaning, therefore, is this, "The Lord God said to my Lord," that is, Christ, "Sit thou at my right hand," that is, when, after his cross, his death, and his resurrection, he will exalt him far above all principality and power, and place him next to him in heaven, that he may reign with supreme happiness and power and glory over all creatures. These words show that this is a Divine decree, fixed and irrevocable. Till I make thine enemies thy footstool ( ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου ); literally, the footstool of thy feet; that is, reign with me in glory until the day of judgment, when I will make the wicked, all opposing powers, subject to thee. The word "till" does not imply that Christ will then cease to reign. "Of his kingdom there shall be no end." But he will then formally deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, only that he may receive it again as the second Person of the Godhead.

Mar_12:38, Mar_12:39

These verses are a condensation of the woes recorded at length by St. Matthew (Mat_23:1-39
.). And he said unto them in his doctrine ( ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὑτοῦ )—literally, in his teaching—Beware of the scribes which desire ( τῶν θελόντων ) to walk in long robes ( ἐν στολαῖς ). The στόλη was a rich robe which reached down to the ankles, and was adorned with fringes. The scribes took pleasure in this kind of display. The salient points in their character were ostentation, avarice, and religious hypocrisy.


There is a change in the construction here, which is not marked in the Authorized Version. The sentence in this fortieth verse should stand alone, and be read thus: They which devour ( οἱ κατεσθίοντες ) widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; these shall receive greater condemnation. The sentence thus read is far more graphic. The statement thus becomes indeed more general, but the reference is still to the scribes who through their avarice swallowed up the property of helpless widows, and through their hypocrisy, in the hope of thus more effectually imposing upon their victims, lengthened out their prayers. Greater condemnation. The word in the Greek is κρίμα , that is, "judgment." A severer sentence would fall upon them in the day of judgment and a heavier condemnation, because, under the semblance of piety, they practiced iniquity, and indulged their avarice under the mask of religion.


He sat down over against the treasury
( γαζοφυλάκιον , from γάζα , a Persian word meaning "treasure," and φυλάττειν , to guard). This was the receptacle into which the offerings of the people were east, for the uses of the temple and for the benefit of the priests and of the poor. Hence that part of the temple in which these gifts were kept was called the treasury. He beheld ( ἐθεώρει )—literally, he was beholding; he was observing—how the multitude πῶς ὁ ὄχλος —that is, in what manner, with what motives (for he was the heart-searcher) the crowd of givers—cast money ( βάλλει χαλκόν ); literally, is casting· St. Luke uses the term ( τὰ δῶρα ) "their gifts." Many that were rich cast in much ( πολλά ), that is, "many pieces." There were several apertures in the treasury, which from their shape were called trumpets. Some of these had special inscriptions, marking the destination of the offerings.


A poor widow
( μία χήρα πτωχὴ ); literally, one poor widow; one specially singled out for notice. St. Luke says, εἷδε δὲ καί τινα χήραν πενιχρὰν : literally, a widow who supported herself by her own little labor. And she cast in two mites ( λεπτὰ ), which make a farthing. The farthing was the fourth part of an as, and ten of these made a denarius. The Greek word ( λεπτὰ ) means literally "thin pieces."

Mar_12:43, Mar_12:44

This poor widow hath cast in more
. The right reading of the verb here is ἔβαλε , not βέβληκε ; this aoristic rendering has very good authority—this poor widow cast in more. Her act is completed, and has gone up for a memorial before God. She "gave" more than all the others who are casting ( τῶν βαλλόντων ), not "have cast in ( τῶν βαλόντων )." She gave more, when she threw in those two mites, than all the others were giving—more, that is, in the estimation of him who sees not as man sees. God does not weigh the gift so much as the mind of the giver. That gift is really the greater in his sight, not which is actually of greater value, but which is greater in respect of the giver. Therefore this poor widow, when she gave her farthing, gave more than they all, because she gave all her living—all, that is, that she had beforehand for that day, trusting that the Lord would give her her bread for that day. And so she carried off the palm for liberality, Christ himself proudly present, but what you offer with being the Judge. St. Ambrose says, "That humility and devotion." which God esteems is not that which you proudly present, but what you offer with humility and devotion.



Rebel vine-dressers.

By this time there was no further prospect or possibility that the fate of Jesus might be averted. His entry into Jerusalem in state, and his cleansing of the temple, were acts that the priests, scribes, and Pharisees could not pardon, for they were a claim to authority altogether incompatible with their own. And the words of Jesus were as bold as his acts; their justice and severity enraged the rulers beyond all degree. The enemies of truth and righteousness were by this time fully resolved to strike down him whose character and ministry were the living embodiment of what they most hated. It was only a question of time and manner and instrumentalities. All this Jesus knew, and he knew that "his hour was come." There was no occasion now for reticence, and there was no longer any end to be subserved by it. His speech was always plain and faithful, but now his denunciations were unsparing, and his warnings terrible. On this Tuesday morning of his last week, our Lord summed up in this parable of "the wicked husbandmen," "the rebel vine-dressers," the rebellious history of Israel in the past, and the approaching doom of Israel in the future. It was in the temple precincts, and in the presence both of the people and of the chief priests, that the great Teacher so boldly aserted his own special mission and authority, and so emphatically foretold his own fate and the judgment which should overtake the guilty nation. The immediate application of the parable is clear enough. Israel was the vineyard planted in the election of Abraham, and hedged about and provided with all things needful, in the giving of the Law by Moses and in the settlement in Canaan under Joshua. The Eternal, who had so favored the chosen people, had sent prophets in three periods—that of Samuel, that of Elijah and Elisha, and that of Isaiah and Jeremiah—to summon Israel to a life of spirituality and obedience corresponding with their privileges. The Jews had not fulfilled the Law of God, or rendered to Heaven the fruits meet for repentance. And now he, the Son of God, was among them, the final Embassy from the throne of the great King. It was but too plain to all eyes that the unfruitfulness and rebellion of Israel reached the most awful height just when their advantages were the greatest, and the mercy of the Eternal was most conspicuous. They, who had rejected and slain the prophets, were now plotting against the very Son of God. They were about to put him to death, because he told them the truth and urged the rightful claims and demands of his Father. They might think, and did think, that this would be the end; but such an expectation was delusive: it was incompatible with the righteous government of God. And the Lord plainly foretold them that, as surely as God reigned in heaven and on earth, so surely should the rebellion of Israel be awfully and signally chastised, their special privileges come to a perpetual end, and the blessings which they were rejecting be conferred by God's sovereign favor upon others, who should render the fruits in their seasons. Forty years afterwards Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews were scattered, and their national life came to an end; and the kingdom of God was established among the Gentiles. The parable has lessons, not only for Israel, but for us; it embodies truth spiritual, practical, and impressive.

I. OUR EARTHLY OCCUPATION: TO TILL THE VINEYARD OF GOD. The figure sets forth our vocation and responsibility. It represents our life as one of privilege. It is not a wilderness, but a vineyard, which we are called to cultivate. God has done much for us, in appointing for us the circumstances and opportunities of our existence. Our life is one of work. The most favorable situation and the most fruitful soil avail little if the plot be neglected; only faithful and diligent labor on our part can secure that the purposes of the Divine Lord shall be fulfilled. It is for us to "give diligence to make our calling and election sure." The greater our privileges, the more need that we should be diligent, laborious, and prayerful. Opportunities must be used, and not neglected or abused.

II. GOD'S RIGHTEOUS EXPECTATION: THAT WE SHALL YIELD HIM FRUIT. What is the crop, the produce, he desires to see? Holiness and obedience, love and praise, as far as he is concerned; and, as far as regards our fellow-men, justice and gentleness, benevolence and helpfulness. He looks for repentance from the sinner, for faith from the hearer of the gospel, for improvement in character and for usefulness in service from the Christian. Why he does this is obvious enough. He has given us the means of knowledge and the opportunities of devotion, and looks for a return. "What more," he says, "could I have done than I have done?" And this expectation is for our sake as well as for his own. Our fruitfulness is our welfare and our happiness; it brings its own reward.

III. GOD'S REQUIREMENT AND DEMAND UPON MEN, BY HIS MESSENGERS AND BY HIS SON. Our Lord appeals to us both by the Law and by the gospel. The teaching of his Word brings before us his rightful claims, and shows us how much it is for our highest advantage that we should not be unmindful of them. He summons us by the lessons of his providence, and by the counsels of our Christian friends, to a religious life. Yet there is no appeal so powerful, so persuasive, as that which God makes to us by his own "dear Son." Christ comes to us with authority; he comes to us with grace. He comes from the Father, and he comes with the deepest interest in our condition, anxious to overcome our rebelliousness, and to lead us to a holy and grateful obedience. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the one great, Divine appeal to the hearts of men. It is the method which infinite Wisdom and Mercy have devised of winning our confidence and love, and securing our ready obedience and loyal service. Those who have rejected other messengers of Heaven may justly be enjoined to receive with reverence the Son of God.

IV. THE PENALTIES OF FRUITLESSNESS AND REBELLION. These are described in this passage in the most affecting terms. Privileges are removed from the unfaithful. The negligent and rebellious are punished and cast out. The advantages which they have spurned are transferred to others.

V. THE REWARD OF FRUITFULNESS AND LOYALTY. 1. Christ is glorified, even though there may be those who reject and contemn him. Christ himself quotes a passage of Scripture, in which this great truth is set forth, though by a change of figure. "The stone which the builders rejected is become the Head of the corner." The purposes of God are accomplished, and cannot be frustrated by the guilt of man. 2. Other husbandmen are found who will deal more faithfully with the sacred trust. These shall offer the fruits of obedience, which shall be acceptable to the Lord of the vineyard. They shall be confirmed in their occupation, shall be blessed in their work, shall enjoy the Master's favor, and shall live in the light of their Master's glory.


Caesar's due.

There could not have been a more decisive proof of the duplicity and hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders than that furnished by this incident. It is certain that they were opposed to the Roman sway, that they nursed in their hearts hopes of Jewish independence, that they would have eagerly welcomed such a Messiah as they looked for—one who should deliver them from the yoke of foreign bondage. Yet, in their malignity, they were ready to denounce Jesus to the Roman governor should he express an opinion adverse to the paying of tribute, just as they were ready to deliver him up to the fury of the populace should he formally approve and sanction the rights of the empire over the Jewish people. Thus—

I. A JUST BUT INSINCERE COMPLIMENT VEILS A MALIGNANT DESIGN. It is an astounding instance of duplicity, this method of approaching the Lord Jesus. These Pharisees and Herodians make admissions which they would never have made except as the means to an evil end. They address the Master with the acknowledgment that he is "true"—in this a striking contrast to themselves; that he is impartial, caring not for any one, nor regarding the person of men; that he taught the way of God. This was not empty, complimentary language; it was just. Whether in their hearts they believed it to be so, we cannot say; but Christ's enemies were often unintentional witnesses, both to his virtues and to his Divine authority and mission. Their only aim was to conciliate him, so that, in an unguarded moment, he might, with natural frankness, commit himself to some judgment which they might use to his harm.

II. A CRAFTY ALTERNATIVE, AN INSIDIOUS SNARE, IS WISELY ELUDED. "IS it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" A categorical answer either way would have been immediately and effectively used to his injury; he could not, after so answering, both stand well with his countrymen and remain free from the imputation of disloyalty to the then supreme power of Rome. The alternative was fairly evaded, and the snare was escaped, by the method in which Jesus dealt with the question propounded. There was something picturesque and impressive to the popular mind in his asking for the denarius, and pointing to the emperor's image and superscription. There was manifest reasonableness in yielding to Caesar what was so obviously his own; yet it was pointed out that this might be loyally done without detriment to the higher obligations of religion.


1. We have here a recognition that civil government is of Divine authority. It does not follow from this that every government deserves approval, or even that under no circumstances is it lawful to resist constituted authority. But our Lord teaches, and his apostles teach, as a general principle, that civil governors are to be obeyed, that "the powers that be are ordained of God."

2. An implication that there is a province into which civil governors may not intrude, that there are obligations which take precedence even of the duties we owe to the earthly sovereign. There are claims which the Divine Lord himself prefers, and which he regards as supreme. The apostles clearly grasped this principle, and put it into practice when the rulers interfered with their discharge of what they held to be their religious duties. When a conflict occurs between the allegiance due to the civil ruler and that due to the supreme King, our Lord's words warrant the preference of the Divine to the human law. In times of persecution especially, the principle of our Lord's words has often guided the wavering and sustained the feeble. "Whether it be right to obey God rather than man, judge ye!" We may say that the modern privilege of religious liberty has grown out of this incident in our Lord's ministry, these words from our Lord's lips. And to the same source we may attribute the growing tendency on the part of secular powers to withdraw from the province of religion, and to allow free scope to the action of conscience and full liberty for the profession and for the rites of religion. There is a province into which no earthly authority may intrude, and where the Creator reigns supreme and alone.


Sadducees confuted.

Of all the subjects which awaken the speculative curiosity and inquiry of men, none approaches, in dignity and importance, the future life. The nobler spirits, in every civilized and cultured community, have either held as an article of faith, or have cherished with fondest hope, the prospect of immortality. Annihilation is a prospect which none but the degraded and sinful can consent to accept without shuddering horror. It has often been observed as very remarkable, though not inexplicable, that the Pentateuch contains no express, explicit statement regarding a future life. It appears that the revelation of immortality was progressive; for expectations regarding a conscious existence of happiness after death are certainly found with growing frequency in the later books of the Old Testament. The psalmists and prophets rejoiced in the hope of a heavenly rest and an imperishable fellowship with the Father of spirits. At the time of our Lord's ministry there was a division among the religious authorities of the Jewish people upon this all-important subject; the Pharisees holding to the doctrines of immortality and resurrection, and the Sadducees denying and apparently ridiculing both. Amongst the Sadducees were many of the most intellectual of the upper classes of society. They also retained in their own leading families the office of high priest. Both our Lord Christ and his apostle Paul took a very decided stand against the Sadducaic doctrine and party. During the last week of our Lord's ministry, when the conflict with his enemies was reaching its height, many assaults were made from various quarters against Jesus and his claims and teaching. This passage records the attack of the rationalistic party upon the Divine Master, and his original and conclusive repulse of that attack.


1. It was indirect reasoning. Instead of attacking the doctrine, they simply attacked a supposed inference from it, viz. the continuance of physical human relations in another life.

2. It was frivolous reasoning. They must have found it hard to state with serious faces a case so absurd. It would have been childish had they supposed the woman to have married twice; the suppesition that she should confront in the resurrection life the rival claims of seven husbands was ridiculous. This is not the temper in which great problems regarding human destiny should be discussed.

3. It was inconclusive; for no one of the alternative solutions of the difficulty proposed would have been incompatible with a future life.


1. He refutes the argument, if it can be so called, which they had adduced. Marriage is an earthly institution, and is especially adapted to a mortal race, providing that generation shall succeed generation. Love is indeed imperishable, and shall be perfected in heaven; but marriage shall no longer be necessary when men shall be equal to the angels, and shall sin and die no more. Therefore no reasoning founded upon the continuance of this physical relationship has place with reference to the life beyond the grave.

2. He bases the doctrine of the future life upon the power of God, which they strangely overlooked. It is the reasoning which was repeated by St. Paul, "Why should it be thought a thing impossible with you that God should raise the dead?" The omnipotence which first called human nature into being is surely able to revive the spirit and perpetuate its consciousness and activity. This is an unanswerable argument still against all dogmatic denial of the future life. It does not in itself establish the doctrine, but it is conclusive against those who deny it. It removes the presumption from the opponents to the upholders of immortality.

3. He refers to the Scriptures for grounds for belief in a future life. Those who admitted their authority would find it hard to reconcile such admission with disbelief in the resurrection.


1. Jesus refers to an authority which the Sadducees professed emphatically to revere—the Pentateuch. "The Law" was their especial pride, and they may have justified their scepticism by the absence of explicit teaching upon this great doctrine from the books of Moses.

2. Jesus quotes a familiar passage, in which he reads, or from which he deduces, a new and striking and convincing argument. It is upon record that God declared himself to Moses as "the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." Now, what did this imply? That God had been their God, but that, they having ceased to exist, he was no longer? Or, that he was the God of their mouldering or dispersed dust, which, upon the theory of annihilation, was all that remained of them? Either those who had been wont to read this passage must have passed it over without reflection, or they must have been satisfied with an interpretation crude and empty. Or else they must have drawn the inference which the great Master now drew: "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Once he declares himself his people's God, he remains such for ever; and they remain his,—conscious recipients of his favor, and responsive partakers of his Divine and Fatherly love. He is a covenant God; his promises are never broken, and his declarations never fail. An immortal God involves the immortality of those whom he has created in his image, redeemed by his grace, renewed by his Spirit. If he is what he has revealed himself as being, if his people are what he has declared them to be, then death has no power over them; they are destined to "glory, honor, and immortality." For "all live in him."


The great commandments.

This passage of the Gospel affords common ground, upon which those who lay the greatest stress upon Christian doctrine may meet with conciliation and harmony those who are wont to insist most upon Christian morality. Here is a statement, upon the highest authority, as to what God requires of man, as to what man owes to God and to his fellow-men. "Do this, and thou shalt live!" It is a sublime view of the great purposes of our spiritual being. Beyond this religion cannot go; for this is the end for which our nature was framed, for which revelation was vouchsafed. Yet who can read these requirements of a holy and benevolent Creator and Ruler without feeling that by himself they have not been fulfilled? The man must be besotted by self-conceit, or must have silenced conscience, who claims to have loved God with all his powers, or to have uniformly loved his neighbor as himself. The purer, the more stringent the Law, the deeper the humiliation and contrition of the transgressor. What, then, more fitted to induce sinners to receive the gospel with faith and gratitude than these words of Jesus? What can make so welcome the tidings of Divine forgiveness secured through the redemption wrought by the Savior on the cross? And, further, as we meditate upon this ideal of a beautiful and acceptable moral life, how profoundly are we impressed with a sense of our own weakness! And surely this must lead us to seek and to accept the aid of the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit at once of power and of love! Thus the inculcation of Christian morality naturally suggests the doctrines upon which we build our hopes for time and for eternity. On the other hand, in the presence of these inspiriting words of the Master, how is it possible for the candid and the faithful to rest in that view of the gospel which represents religion as merely securing the forgiveness of sin, and immunity from wrath and punishment? Here is a summons to a spiritual, a self-denying, and a benevolent life.


1. In itself it was a worthy, a noble question. Unlike the trifling and ridiculous riddle propounded by the Pharisees, it was an inquiry becoming on the part of the scribe who urged it, and fit for the consideration and judgment of the holy Master himself. It respected commandments, and thus acknowledged the rule of a just God, and the duty of man's obedience and submission. It concerned morality—the highest of all human interests. It evinced an evident desire to do what was right, and to give precedence to what should be acknowledged best. There can be no nobler inquiry than this—What is the will of God? What is the duty of man? What shall I do?

2. In its spirit and purport, the question was commendable. The questioner observed that Jesus had answered well; that he had solved with marvellous wisdom the difficult question of the Pharisees; that he had dealt skilfully and conclusively with the cavilling of the Sadducees. The limits of civil submission are an interesting branch of study; the future life is of all speculative questions the most engrossing to the thoughtful; but of even wider interest are the foundation, the character, the means, of human goodness. The inquiry as to the first of commandments was put as a testing question, but in no captious spirit; it was the expression of a desire to learn—to learn from the highest authority, to learn the most sacred principles of moral life. And not to learn only, but doubtless to practice the lesson acquired.

II. THE ANSWER OF JESUS TO THE SCRIBE. There was no hesitation in the Master's reply to the question proposed; the challenge was at once taken up. And consummate wisdom was shown in the reference to the Mosaic Law, the very words of which were quoted. Thus the right-minded were conciliated, yet at no expense, but rather by the manifestation, of truth. And the hostile were silenced; for who of the Jewish rabbis could call in question the authority of their own sacred books? When we look into the substance of the response, several remarkable facts become apparent.

1. Love is represented as the sum of the Divine commandments. The Pentateuch contained the injunctions our Lord repeated, but they were included in a vast body of precepts and prohibitions. It could scarcely be said with justice that love was the most prominent of the Mosaic commandments. Christ's independence, discernment, and legislative authority were shown in his fixing upon the two requirements which occur in different books and in different connections, and in bringing them out into the light of day, and exhibiting them as in his view of surpassing importance, and so promulgating them as the laws of his spiritual kingdom through all time. God himself is love; Christ is the expression and proof of the Divine love; and it is therefore natural and reasonable that love should be the law of the Divine kingdom, the badge of the spiritual family.

2. The Object of supreme love is God himself. The personality of God is assumed, for we cannot love an abstraction, a power; only a living being, who thinks, feels, and purposes. The unity of God is asserted; for although, when Jesus lived on earth, the Jews were no longer subject to the temptation to idolatry, such temptation had beset them when the Law was originally given, and for a long period subsequently. The relationship between God and man is presumed—"thy God;" for he is ours and we are his. The claims of God are implied; his character, his treatment of men, his redeeming love in Christ. "We love him, because he first loved us."