He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Yesterday I suggested that this passage is primarily about trust. Jesus commends the widow because her gift of all that she has reflects absolute trust in the God the Temple was erected to honor. (After all, having two coins, she could certainly have kept one and still boasted of having given 50% of all she had!)
But what if Jesus is not holding her up as an example of piety but rather as an example of someone who is being exploited by her religion?
Why might I wonder about this? Three reasons: First, in the previous scene Jesus has warned the crowds to beware those scribes who, among other things, “devour widow’s houses” (12:40) – that is, take everything the widow has. And now is in this scene the woman gives all she has to the temple.
Second, immediately after this scene, Jesus leaves the Temple for the last time. Perhaps after seeing a widow give all that she has to live on – and witnessing the Temple accept such gifts – he finally forsakes the Temple for good. Indeed, Jesus then predicts the destruction of the Temple (13:1-2). All of which leaves me wondering whether there is a connection between the Temple’s willingness, even eagerness, to accept the leftovers of the rich and simultaneously all a widow had to live on, on the one hand, and its impending destruction, on the other.
Third, just after Jesus’ triumphal entrance into the city days earlier he drove out the money changers, accusing them of exploiting the poor. Is this a continued critique and another example of how the Temple has become “a den of robbers” (11:17)?
Don’t get me wrong, none of this diminishes the significance of the widow’s gift. But it does shift our attention from personal piety to the larger issue of right stewardship. Stewardship is not, ultimately, about what we give to the church. Rather, stewardship reflects a conviction that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God. Therefore, stewardship is concerned with helping us use all that we have wisely – that is, as God would have us use it.
Read this way, Jesus words about the widow push us to expect more of ourselves and our congregations and take seriously that everything we have – gifts, abilities, challenges, wealth, assets, time, opportunities – all of this comes from God with an expectation to use it in accord with the ethics and patterns of the “anti-kingdom” Jesus has been proclaiming.
So what might happen if our churches stopped focusing on the 10% they believed we should give and instead helped us think faithfully about the other 90% God has entrusted to us so that we may live well and care for the needs of our neighbors that they may also live well? What might happen if our churches invited its poorest members to give less and its wealthier ones to give more? What might happen if stewardship sermons focused less on what we should give and instead provided counsel and encouragement to consider all of our economic decisions in light of the Christ who, like this widow, gave all that he had?
Prayer: Dear God, grant us the vision to see all we have as a gift from you, the wisdom to use it well, and the courage to trust in your for all things. In Jesus’ name, Amen.