What’s the standard line when studying the widow’s two mites? Have you heard sermons on how Jesus was pleased with the widow because of her giving heart? Was Jesus happy with her because she gave all she had, a much greater percentage of what those rich folks gave? Quickly refresh your memory from Luke 21.1-4:
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”
Does Jesus comment on her heart, her attitude, or her intent? Does He indicate whether or not He is pleased with her? Perhaps we have read it so often with that in mind that it seems as though that’s what the text says…but if you look carefully, Jesus makes no statement to that effect. He just observes that she gave everything she had; it wasn’t much, but it was more than the rich.
Rule #1 in Bible study: Keep it in Context! What came before, what comes after, and what is the main course and tenor of the larger section in question?
Jesus had, in the previous chapter (Lk. 20.45-47), just warned all the people to beware of the scribes because they “like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers.” Jesus ended by asserting: “These will receive greater condemnation.”
Just after Jesus observed our poor widow, He began to prophesy of the utter destruction and ruin of Jerusalem (Lk. 21.5ff).
Back to the Widow
This story of the widow giving her two copper coins is not some simple sideline story but an intentional and provocative illustration of the subject at hand. Matthew 23 gives an even fuller picture of Jesus pronouncing woes and condemnation upon the scribes and Pharisees. They were a bunch of hypocrites who devoured widows’ houses!
“How do we devour widows’ houses?!” they would have exclaimed in furious offense. They knew it was a matter of law to watch out for strangers, widows, and orphans–it was all over their scriptures.
This little widow woman stands as living proof. Their religion glorified the rich, as they sounded trumpets before casting their bags of coins into the temple treasury (Mk. 12.41; Mt. 6.2). And their religion greatly burdened and oppressed the poor! This poor woman was giving all she had–for what?
Jesus sees the evidence of a corrupt and broken religion, for any religion built on the backs of the poor and needy is false, oppressive, and unrighteous! This poor woman was trying to live up to the religious system of her day. Rather than use what she had to live, she felt compelled to give it up, go home, and starve to death!
Using Religion to Trample the Poor
What does Vatican City have in common with the prosperity gospel? Have you ever seen pictures of the great cathedrals in Europe? Do you know what riches have been consolidated into the little country called Vatican City State? So much of that has been built by taxing the common, poor constituents of the Roman Catholic church; those amazing buildings were built upon the backs of the poor. Martin Luther was so disgusted by the greed, especially illustrated through the sales of indulgences, that he (at great personal cost) attempted to reform the church.
We can see evidence of the prosperity gospel all around us, manifesting itself in enormous church complexes and incredibly rich preachers who own private jets and mansions but who continue to pound their people for more money. (Check out this little clip from Kenneth Copeland bragging about being a billionaire in the kingdom of God.)
Folks, if these men were teaching the truth about God’s word and leading others to repentance godly living, I would be right behind them. I don’t care how much money another man makes. I’m not concerned with how rich someone is. I’m concerned with men who use religion to take from the poor and amass wealth for themselves! I’m concerned with false teachers who twist the Bible in order to get well-meaning poor folks to send money to their ministries–to them.
What about Us?
So much of this prosperity gospel preaching has saturated this country that we can easily fall right in line. Of course, we would never fall for major abuses, would we? But why would we look at the story of the widow’s two copper coins and seek to glorify her for what she did? Why would we consider her level of giving to the treasury such an awesome thing, instead of seeing it for the abuse it really was? Perhaps it’s because some semblance of the prosperity mindset exists in our heads.
She was so spiritual, we think. We wish we had the faith to give everything in our bank accounts…but we beat ourselves up for not being as spiritual as that lady.
Stop! God does not expect you to hurt yourself giving to some religious body! “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this,” James wrote, “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained form the world” (1.27). It’s giving to widows, not getting from them.
Don’t miss that the oppressive religion Jesus witnessed at the temple was destined by God for complete destruction. God judged that corrupt system. Don’t expect our corrupt religious systems to escape His wrath!