"While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people putting their gifts into the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two pennies."I assure you," he said, "this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has."
This incident comes right on the heels of what Jesus said in the last chapter: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they love to parade in flowing robes and to have everyone bow to them as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. But they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property, and then, to cover up the kind of people they really are, they make long prayers in public. Because of this, their punishment will be the greater.”
There, in the events of chp 20, Jesus calls out the Pharisees, but here in chpt 21, he praises, he points out, he lifts up the widow, one of the very people they were cheating…
What do you see here? What is happening? What is your reaction?
Can I just say that this is part of why I follow Jesus, why I find Him so compelling… From the moment we started Luke, reading about the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus has been clear: this is why I came- to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim freedom for those in captivity, sight for the blind, freedom from oppression. And this is the character of Jesus- He takes the side of the poor over the powerful, He sees through all the religious BS and down to our very hearts. And He cares what is going on in those hearts- He offers peace, and healing and acceptance of who we are but change into who we could and even should be. And that’s why I love Jesus… for what He taught, for what He did and for what He does… in and to and through me. For seeing value in two coins worth half a penny from a poor widow, and for seeing value in me. For loving people like her, and for even loving people like me.
Now, Jesus is praising the widow, but this story is not (regardless of how this may have been presented to you previously) a lesson on tithing… We always read this as though Jesus is giving the disciples a lesson on giving- but it’s not and the placement between his condemnation of the Pharisees and then what He says in the rest of this chapter confirms that. I think Jesus said what He said here through clenched teeth, His heart breaking over what He saw. Like nearly everything in this section, this is an indictment on the religion he saw all around Him- religion that put perception over reality, and law over people and worse… cheated widows out of their property and then pretended to be pious. He’s not saying- “Look how cool she is for sacrificing the little she has”- He’s saying “Look how corrupt this religion, this society has become- all that this beautiful, giving widowed woman has to give is 2 pennies. And the reason why is because of the very people who should be caring for her, the very system that should make sure her needs are met!” Can you see that?