He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
Jesus said, ‘This poor widow … out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
The image of rich people giving something from their plenty whilst a poor widow gives everything out of her poverty is a powerful one. It’s so powerful it became proverbial, though nowadays many more people have heard of the term, ‘widow’s mite’, than could place it in its Gospel story setting.
Church goers may have heard these verses interpreted as Jesus’s commendation of the attitude and action of the widow in giving sacrificially. Such interpretation might have been accompanied by gentle hints that our giving to church bears greater resemblance to the rich people putting their gifts into the temple treasury than to the one who donated their last two coins.
Certainly, the widow is a more sympathetic or heroic figure than a rich person (like you or me?) for whom giving is easy. But was Jesus really commending a situation where someone was left with nothing to live on? Alternatively, perhaps Jesus saw her as a victim, exploited by the rich and powerful. After all, he had just issued a condemnation of religious professionals who in order to fund their positions of power, ‘devour widows’ houses.’ (20:47)
So, how should I respond to charities, Church, and others when they come looking for my money? What should I be asking of others when I seek their financial support for a cause that I hold dear?
Generosity: yes. Jesus would love people to be generous.
Self-destruction: no. Jesus, who loves everyone, would hate for that to happen to anyone.
O God, You have given generously to me, so may I be generous to others. You have given me gifts for living, so may I enjoy them and flourish. And may I never exploit the gifts of others, for my benefit or to their suffering. Amen
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields