21 November 2010

For God’s Sake, Think! – The Widow’s Two Coins

"Hermeneutics” is a fancy word to describe the process by which someone interprets the Bible. Every so often I blog about contexts behind certain biblical passages so that we can better understand God’s Word. I invite you to think critically about what the biblical writers are trying to communicate as I explain a passage’s background material.


Luke 21:1-4

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

It has been many a time when a Christian organization has used the passage from Luke 21:1-4 to try to convince me to give to their cause. Jesus praised the widow for giving all that she had to the temple treasury, so shouldn’t you follow her example and give all you have to [insert organization]? While I certainly do think that giving is to be encouraged, I am very convinced that using this passage in such a way is unfaithful to its context. It is built upon a dangerous misunderstanding of the passage, resulting in spiritual manipulation (see 2 Cor. 9:7).

Part of the reason why a temple treasury was even collected was so that money could be dispersed to the poor and distressed social classes (widows, orphans) in the Jewish society. Somehow, the temple treasury was no longer meeting this need… In this story, not only is a widow poor and down to her last two coins, but the temple leaders required her to give to the treasury! She was supposed to be the one receiving from the fund, not the one giving to the fund. The system was corrupt and unjustly taking advantage of the poor rather than aiding the poor.

When Jesus compares the widow to the rich, he was not commending her for giving more than the rich because she gave all she had. He was commenting that she, in her poverty, should not have been the one giving to the treasury! It is for this reason that Jesus next predicts the complete destruction of the temple (21:5-6). The entire social system of Israel was corrupt, including the religious system. It was thus going to be destroyed, along with all of its unjust practices.