What a lovely story! Jesus affirms a poor widow for making a sacrificial gift to the Synagogue. He actually applauds her for giving, in real terms than all those who were rich and famous. Therefore, we extrapolate, it is not how much you give but the sacrifice you make that matters.
This passage, popularly called “The Widows Mite” pops up whenever we get to talking about giving, tithing or any kind of stewardship program. It can be used to encourage or bully people into giving or to explain why we don’t give more than we do. Talking about money and the giving of money usually makes us cough, look at our watch es and find an excuse to be somewhere else.
The Widows Mite justifies our condemnation of the rich (they should give more) and our defence of our own level of giving (every little bit counts you know).
Is that what this story is really all about? Is that what the widow has come to mean to us or is there something else at work here? John Petty suggest”She is not a positive example, but rather the (barely) living representative of a crying shame. She represents the on-going exploitation of the poor by the Temple elite.”
Jesus and the disciples are sitting in the temple courtyard watching the passing cavalcade that was the daily occurrence at the synagogue. People were moving around, moving in and out of the temple and others were making their contribution towards the various temple appeals including the cost of the day to day operations.
38As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
There were the scribes and Pharisees, visibly different in dress and deportment. Moving back and forth across the square making sure they were seen by all and sundry. They wanted to, no needed to be noticed, to be sure that others understood just how important they were and how important it was you contributed your required gifts for their benefit. These were the people who used the laws of giving to increase theirs and the temples wealth and the cost of the poor and the marginalised, and felt no guilt in relieving such as widows of their houses. They made others poor to make themselves rich and important.
There were the rich people, those with great wealth and importance. They too were noticed by their dress and deportment and by the great show they made of giving large amounts of money as required. There was little sacrificial about their giving. They had much and so what appeared to be a large and impressive amount to the ordinary person cost them little.
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then 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. 44For 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.”
Then there were the ordinary people, those with little who were still required to give their share. Jesus points to a widow, a woman on her own, who came out of the shadows, a little embarrassed, a little fearful and fiddle with her purse before putting in a pennyworth of coins – 2 copper coins worth very little to the rich yet worth much to her.
Jesus highlights what she gives, and in the context of his comments about both the rich and the scribes and Pharisees, he is not applauding her at all. He is condemning those with the capacity to give and those who use the poor to become rich.
We stand condemned if we use this story to justify taking unjustly from the poor or as an excuse not to give sacrificially ourselves.
In our modern world we often commend the extremely rich for their philanthropy pointing to the large amounts of money they contribute to causes and programs. And yes many do give large amounts and we should be grateful. But there are at least two questions we have to answer:
How and from whom did they make their money? Was it by making quality products or services, providing living wages to those who work for them, and by paying a fair share of the tax bill? Or was it by selling lesser quality goods, paying the lowest possible wages, inducing people who can not afford the products and services they have to offer to put themselves at risk by buying them, exporting jobs and importing inferior goods? It would be unfair of me to single out any particular individual or corporation because the economics of business is such that most appear to be doing so. If this is the case, the giving to charities and causes by those involved is not to be commended for giving after the fact when they have avoided paying proper wages and taxes before taking the profits.
For a number of years I was involved in raising funds for charities and organisations. The organisations I worked for had this idea that special appeals to the rich and famous, black tie dinners and direct approaches to those with the resources was where the money was to be had. Often they had not kept the list of the ‘little people’ who gave their regular but ‘unimpressive’ gifts to the charity or organisation. Appeals to these people were often seen as costly and not profitable.
Yet the appeals that were unprofitable were always those to the rich and famous. In terms of time, effort and resources, the returns were much less in real terms than the funds given by the small givers. And the small givers were regular, were happy to receive a thank you note and had no need for a photo opportunity in the social pages.
Around the same time I was involved in the liquor industry when old corner hotels were being tarted up and becoming boutique pubs. I suggested this might not be a good idea. To become a boutique you needed boutique clients, nit the regulars who popped in at 10, left at 5 and did that quietly and religiously everyday. I pointed out that they were the ones that paid the wages, and without them they would struggle to be successful. I was told that these people didn’t fit the image and had to go. For many establishments this proved to be a bad move.
Jesus points to the widow and says here is someone who is faithful to her commitments and responsibilities and who is being used to make others rich (those in power) and to appease the consciences of the rich (those who have the capacity to make a real contribution)
No this not a story about the widows mite, but a story about might oppressing the widow. AMen