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.’
There is something profoundly human about this little story which transcends the years. Many a preacher has waxed lyrical about the whole-hearted generosity of the poor widow. It was a paltry sum she gave, and in dramatic contrast to the large amounts of money donated to the Temple by others. But proportionately it was something else. These two tiny coins were all she had left to live on. She had given her last penny whereas the wealthy donors scarcely noticed the difference; they simply gave what they could well spare. Read like this, it is a moral tale to prick the conscience, a perfect lection for a stewardship campaign or a Commitment for Life Sunday. But the context suggests it might also also be read through another lens, in the light of the previous verses. Here we have a theme frequently found in the Old Testament, a sweeping condemnation of exaction by the wealthy and powerful and of false piety that serves as a cloak for injustice. In the light of this, the poor widow in the Temple is arguably being taken advantage of; her pious extravagant gesture, a sign of exploitation by Temple authorities. Jesus is in earnest: those who oppress the poor and defenceless, people like this vulnerable widow, are failing to love God and their neighbour.
Dear God, Show your loving kindness to all who are in need of your help. Be with the weak to make them strong and the strong to make them gentle. Bless your church in the fulfilment of her calling. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member, Macclesfield and Bollington URC.