Video: Is The Widow With The Two Mites A Positive Example Of Sacrificial Giving?

Today’s question: “The story of the widow and her two mites (Luke 21:1-4) is often used to commend sacrificial giving. However, the immediate context contains Jesus condemning the Scribes for “devouring widows’ houses” and promising to destroy the temple. Is the story primarily about sacrificial giving? Or, is this story about a corrupt religious system that was devouring widows rather than caring and providing for them? The Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8 gave out of their poverty, but it was in response to the gospel and doesn’t seem to have been their pennies.”

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About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Ethics, Hermeneutics, Holy Week, Luke, NT, Podcasts, Questions and Answers, Theological, Video. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Video: Is The Widow With The Two Mites A Positive Example Of Sacrificial Giving?

  1. Stephen Crawford+ says:


    Shortly after I left a comment critical of your move to posting videos … Mark 12 came up in the lectionary, and this video was very helpful for me.

    If I’m remembering correctly, I think I agree with what you have to say in this video, but I think you might be shortchanging the traditional reading of this passage. I liked very much the way you juxtaposed the house of the temple with the household of the Church that the Lord would establish. I also think you’re right that Jesus is in some ways overturning the optics within which scribes are so highly esteemed, and he’s helping his disciples learn to see–in this case, to see a woman who otherwise gets overlooked. (I think you said things along those lines, at least.) I even agree that poor people can be particularly valuable within the Church, not least because of their prayers. And yet I still wonder if there’s more room than you allowed that Jesus is here praising her contribution in a way.

    Corrupt temple regime: absolutely. In fact, the corruption of the Jerusalem leadership will never be more clear than when they crucify the Lord of glory. And while that act is entirely evil in itself–just as it is evil to devour widow’s houses–that doesn’t exclude the reality that Jesus’s offering of himself in the very moment of his rejection was a gift so precious that it would never be outstripped. George MacDonald talks along these lines (in ways that get picked up by David Hart and, I think, John Milbank), that the Lord unveiled the truth in his own person, and the truth never sounded out so eloquently as when it was being rejected. I wonder if something like that is happening here with the scribes and the widow: a word of judgment for the scribes and their lack of regard for this woman, but also Jesus calling attention to what comes to light in the midst of that oppression, which was this woman’s faith.

    I guess there’s a historical detail I’m not sure about that would be important for my understanding of the passage. Was there any possibility that the widow could have just put ONE of her coins in? Or could she have stayed home? Could she have dodged the overly demanding interpretation of the law promulgated by the scribes and just taken care of herself? Even if she’s deceived–which still leaves the scribes and company in the wrong–that wouldn’t change the reality that she still trusts that the Lord has not forgotten her but hears her groaning under the burden.

    That’s what I’m wondering. Does she trust that her Father sees her, even when no one else does, and that he’s going to give her what she needs, however impossible it may look for her that afternoon? And if so, is that what Jesus calls attention to? Obviously, these questions are speculative, and I don’t know whether or not they’re historically plausible. I think they resonate with some of the themes running through Mark’s Gospel, though, so I think there’s some textual justification for going this route.

    I’ll just say, I’ve been blessed to have friends that are poor. And I believe James is right when he states that the Lord has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. I’ve seen them hope against all hope that the Lord is going to come through for them, and I’ve seen an incredible gratitude, where people genuinely appreciate that the Lord’s given them another day. One of the friends I’ve made along the way was Gary (when I lived in North Carolina). One morning after breakfast someone was coming around asking if anyone had some money. I don’t remember what the person needed it for. Gary gave the person a few dollars, and the person thanked him. Later that morning, Gary was asking around for some money so that he could ride the bus. He had given away his last few dollars, all he had to live on. Most people would call that foolish. But without even meaning to, Gary gave a gift far greater than a few dollars.

    One more story to illustrate the moral dynamics that seem to be at work in the passage. This is a story that Sam Wells shares somewhere. It was about a doctor friend of his visiting a Malawian hospital–three hours of rounds with fifty-something patients in thirty-something beds. Sunken eyes, withered bodies, groans echoing through the hospital, the floor wet from spilled bed pans that were poorly mopped afterwards. As she makes her rounds, people are tugging on her coat asking for help with whatever it is they’re suffering. Finally, she’s ready to leave, and as she starts to make her exhausted exit, someone gives a good tug on her doctor’s coat–this person for the second time. Now she snaps at him and doesn’t even try to cover up her frustration: “What is it you want now? Haven’t I already helped you?” … “Oh, nothing, doctor,” the man replies, lying on the floor. “I just thought you looked tired. I wondered if you might like to share some of my beans,” and he pushes a plastic plate of watery hospital beans across the concrete floor towards her.

    I think it’s good for the Church to be a household where everyone is cared for. May the Lord hasten the day. But I also think the Lord is inviting us to learn now to recognize when someone truly great is among us, even in advance of the day when their glory will be revealed with Christ for all the world to see.

    Glad to hear your thoughts, and everyone else’s as well (though I’m not sure anyone else will be going back to this video to look at comments). Godspeed, brother.


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