While Jesus was in the Temple, He watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,”Jesus 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.”Luke 21:1-4
Did you find a connection between the pericope concerning the poor widow who gave her all and the surrounding context? There is nothing that appears to connect this unit to that which follows it. But if we look at the segment before it, we find the word “widow”. Both segments focus on a “widow”. In the segment before it, these leaders who love the honour at banquets are very ready to devour widows’ houses. It is not by chance that we find “widows” in both segments. The two segments are linked by the word “widow”. But more than that, the comparison between wealth and poverty. Remember we have seen already through the gospel of Luke the contrast between the rich and poor; the haves and the have nots. I am sure it is deliberate on Luke’s part, that he has included the story of Jesus in the Temple watching the rich dropping their gifts in the collection box, following the description of the Scribes who love attention and grandstanding while “devouring widows’ houses”. It is a very strong link.
And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”Luke 20:45-47
The inclusion of this little story adds contrast and condemnation to the practices of the leaders of Israel. Just before, Jesus had condemned the hypocritical practices of these leaders who loved to display their piety (Matthew makes even stronger comments than Luke) and yet, were not really in the race spiritually speaking. Jesus comments were made in front of all the people. You can bet they were “all ears”; listening intently to every word and telling everyone else what He said. Notice, the warning is actually given to His disciples, the crowd in Jerusalem for the Passover are included by virtue of them being there. Jesus is primarily focused on making sure the disciples (who are destined to spiritual leaders too) get the message and guard their own hearts against such things.
You can bet the Scribes (and the other leaders too) strutted around in their long flowing white robes made of fine, expensive material. Such clothes set them apart as rich, distinguished gentlemen scholars who wore white as a symbol of their purity in matters of the Law. What a travesty. They wore their dignity and their grandeur on the outside so people could see how impressive they were. They loved the respect people gave them because of “who they were”. The word [aspasmos] translated “greetings” is not the simple every day greetings which are normal and sincere. Rather, the word encapsulates all the bowing and scraping or insincere deference paid to someone who lives according to their rank, and lords it over all others. These are the ones who love the best seat in the house. We have seen that a number of times in Luke already.
Now we come to crux of the issue in the connection between these two segments. The piece that actually glues or dove-tails the segments together. What does “devour widows’ houses” actually mean? To determine that, let’s turn to the versions available to us:
- (LITV) who devour widows’ houses
- (BBE) Who take the property of widows
- (CEV) But they cheat widows out of their homes
- (GNB) who take advantage of widows and rob them of their homes, (GW) They rob widows by taking their houses
- (MSG) And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless.
- (NLT) Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property
It is clear what was happening isn’t it? It seems these Scribes who were doing that, were “helping” with legal advice perhaps, but actually they themselves took possession of the widows’ possessions: namely their houses. How reprehensible that was when the community of faith and especially the leaders were given the task of caring for the widows and orphans. These guys apparently used the opportunity to secure the legal rights to a widows’ house for their own ends. Either it was through encouraging them to give their land and their houses to the church in order to bless the community of faith [Judaism actually]. But it seems that land has ended up in the hands or under the control of the Scribes. Or they have set up a fund from money contributed by widows, from which the Scribes have been taking money unlawfully. Or they directly misappropriated some, if not all of the money, from the estate of the husband when the widow asked for help to manage her affairs from those who were expert in the law.
The sense in the Amplified Bible is that the prayers were actually the means used of trying to cover up their evil act. (AMP) Who make away with and devour widows’ houses, and [to cover it up] with pretense make long prayers. There is no strong textual reason to link these two thoughts as being related.
Following the castigation of the Scribes, with the story of the widow’s sacrifice in giving all she had, highlights her piety or spirituality, which then contrasts with the lack of spirituality on the part of the Scribes. The rich are putting their gifts in the offering in the same way and at the same time the widow is giving her contribution. They give a little out of their riches (which incidentally came from the sale of her property) while she gives everything she has from the little she has. The contrast would be huge, irrespective of how much she or they gave. It is still a shocking contrast. Her contribution was two copper coins, the value of which amounted to about one-hundredth of a days wages. The inference from what preceded this, is that it was all she had because her estate has been cleaned out by these unscrupulous Scribes (lawyers).But it gets even worse when we are told “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them”. There are different interpretations on what this means.
She has put in more than any one of them. She has put in more than all of the others together.She gave more proportionally speaking in that she gave all she had, whereas they gave a very small percentage of their riches.
This shocking outcome is strengthened with the introductory words, “This widow, this poor one, herself put in more than any one or all of them”. Either this means that despite her poverty she gave more than any one of them. Or she gave more than all of them combined. We don’t know how many of them there were. But if her contribution was 1/100 of a days wages; their contribution must have been smaller one by one. Not one of them gave more than her contribution. That is bad enough, especially when the money they were giving was as a result of them ripping her off.
Or she gives everything she had despite being conned by them. Not one of them gave more than she gave. Imagine therefore, the amounts they gave if this woman gave more than any one of them. If however, the sense is collectively they didn’t give as much in real terms as this one widow gave, it doesn’t bear thinking about and certainly it is best I don’t comment on it. I might use words I shouldn’t use. Then cap that all off with the thought that following this, such Scribes make a big issue about their giving, their praying and their piety. Most people feel what is meant is that she gave everything she had. Their giving was only their small change. So proportionally speaking she gave more than they did. But the text does open the possibility that she had actually given more in real terms (i.e. In the monetary amount she actually put in the collection) than all of them put together. If that is the case it is reprehensible, given the fact it was the money they stole from her in the first place.
Enough said. Ponder on it for a while and then check your own practices and standards of conduct.
Of course, this is the moment for my best lawyer jokes (with apologies to those of you who are lawyers and receive the Gems).
A lawyer dies and goes to Heaven. “There must be some mistake,” the lawyer argues. “I’m too young to die. I’m only 55.” “Fifty-five?” says Saint Peter. “No, according to our calculations, you’re 82.” “How’d you get that?” the lawyer asks. Answers St. Peter, “We added up your time sheets.”Anon
A lawyer giving you an orange: ‘I hereby give and convey to you all and singular, my interests, rights, claim, title and advantages of and in, said orange, together with all its rind, juice, pulp, and seeds, and all rights and advantages with full power to bite, cut, freeze and otherwise eat the same.”Anon
“Mummy, do they ever bury two people in the same grave?” “Of course not, dear,” replied the mother, “Why would you think that?” “That tombstone said… ‘Here lies a lawyer and an honest man.'”Anon
How many lawyer jokes are in existence? Only the three above. All the rest are true stories.Anon