When the Jewish people welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday, they were hoping for a political and national leader. They expected a king who would usher in a new era of Jewish power and status. What they got, though, was new kind of king. As we continue our journey through Holy Week, Jesus describes a kingdom that not only subverted the typical ideas of status and power, but was most likely confusing and disappointing to His Jewish audience.
Jesus makes it clear in Mark 12:13-17 that he’s not going to reestablish Israel’s national state. When He is asked whether the Jews should pay the imperial tax, a special tax that only subjects paid, the religious leaders of the day were hoping He’d fall into their trap by saying something inflammatory that might lead to his arrest. But his answer makes it clear that He was not interested in retaking Rome at all: “Bring me a denarius* and let me look at it… Whose image is this? And whose inscription? … Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
But that wasn’t the only way Jesus’ kingdom surprised His followers; He also redefined status and faith. He chastised the powerful, high-status religious leaders of his day, and praised an impoverished, unseen widow. In the Jewish cultural mindset, people would have made assumptions that a poor widow had lost favor with God (If God was pleased with her, He would have blessed her with resources and a husband and/or sons.) The idea that she might be the paragon of faith in the room would have been completely foreign. And yet she was the one who Jesus held up as an example to us: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
This world’s definitions of power and status blind us all at times. We look to other people for approval and miss the standards set by our king. We assume he is pleased with us when everything goes our way. But Jesus’ kingdom functions differently. In the Kingdom of God, worth won’t be established by might or wealth or popular approval.
How often are we looking to Jesus to build our own kingdom, and ignoring the counter-intuitive kingdom of God? Are we discounting what we have to offer, thinking that it is not enough to make an impact? How might God be asking us, as we prepare for Easter, to abandon the cultural markers of value and success, and instead use all that we have for our King?