38As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
What I am Learning:
The scribes were originally a group of folks who memorized the Hebrew Scriptures and could read. Over time they became authorities on the scriptures and were expected to be able to give the essential meaning of a text. In Jesus' day, the scribes were a part of the political and religious elite in Jerusalem. They were very high on the honor scale, they had very high status. Jesus' critique of them as people who are more interested in their status, than in the truth.
As the People of Israel reflected on their experience in Egypt, they wrote these words:
You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. Deuteronomy 24-17-18
Yet, Jesus says the scribes prey on widows and devour their homes. This could mean either or both of the following:
a) that because scribes were trusted, when the only male in a household died, the scribes would take trusteeship of the household property because typically (although not always) women could not own property. They would get a percentage of the wealth for this "service." They were known for embezzling money from these widows.
b) that the overall cost of the temple and the many ways that the people were expected to pay for it were a burden on a people when 85% of them were barely surviving.
Either way, Jesus is critiquing them of focusing on pomp and circumstance and ignoring the ethical core of the faith: care for the vulnerable and a society of equals.
The widow text has been used in church stewardship campaigns for a long time. We have been encouraged to be like the widow and give "a little more" to the church.
I think we should be like the widow, but not in the way we have typically imagined.
I think it likely, however, that the widow was giving her last two penny's in public protest of a scribe who embezzled her family's money. She gives her last two pennies to a system that has taken all the rest. In doing so publicly, she seeks to unmask it. What happened to the Hebrews in Egypt was now happening in Palestine - with a warped and twisted religious hierarchy participating and collaborating in the exploitation. She should not be known as the poor widow, or the widow with a mite but as the courageous widow. Like Rosa Parks she got tired of her silence, and spoke up in the Temple.
One of the hopes for TCC is that we will explore a way to be the church, a new "business model" if you will, that allows us to spend more of our time and money on care for the vulnerable than the typical model today.
We want to have meaningful worship, caring community, formation to become more authentic to who God is creating us to be and training in social change skills. We also want to have fun.
We also want to learn the lessons of our forebears in faith who suffered in Egypt and have learned from the courageous widow: to care for the vulnerable and to speak out for and promote a new way to live together.