22 November 2010

Luke 21:1-4

"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.'" (vv. 1-4)


Traditionally this story has been interpreted to encourage the faithful to give everything they have with complete devotion and selflessness.

Luke puts a twist in the tale, however. These versus come directly after Jesus has just promised severe punishment to the scribes - Temple insiders - because they "devour widow's houses" (Luke 20:47).

In today's economic circumstances, the condemnation of those who use their position of power to take homes away from widows sounds as timely as it does emotional. Bad enough that banks are taking homes from the average person, but how much worse it would be if Christian clergy were responsible for making widows homeless.

How can Jesus denounce religious leaders who take advantage of widows on the one hand and then turn right around and encourage widows to give all that they have to the same system?

The biblical scholar R Alan Culpepper suggests another way to look at this apparent contradiction: that the character of the scribes is such that they will even steal widows' houses from them whereas the widows are prepared to give everything they have to God.

The text suggests to us that God wants us to be like one of these groups of people and not like the other. It doesn't take a lot of intelligence or wit to figure out which sort of people are destined to become citizens of the coming kingdom of God.

And here is another piece of good news about God's kingdom: those who give small gifts out of their small resources can be certain that their gifts are honoured and cherished by God.

To Ponder

Imagine witnessing the scene described in this text. What would you want to say to the widow? To the scribes?

If you were called to be an advocate for the scribes before the throne of God, how might you plead for them?

How do you cope when your desire to give is limited because your own resources are limited?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pam Garrud

Pam is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Britain. In August 2009, Pam and her London-born husband Trevor moved to Pam's native United States for family reasons.