As 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, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then 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. For 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.”
It is no accident that the scribes and the widow are place one right after the other in this narrative. They are offered as a direct comparison to one another. On the one hand we have the scribes, self-righteous, doing things for appearances rather than God, and insisting on being treated like kings. On the other hand we have a poor widow who is unassuming, draws no attention to herself, yet gives all she has to the Lord. While the scribes sit at the place of honor at great banquets, the widow has given literally the only penny she had to God.
Remember the “Occupy” movement a few years ago? They were protesting that 1% of the population controls 99% of the wealth. Modern day images of scribes and widows were everywhere. How is it okay that actresses walk the red carpet in gowns costing thousands of dollars when children around the world don’t have shoes? Men, church leaders even, drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis when children in America die of starvation every day. That is the sort of hypocrisy Jesus is pointing out.
So what does this mean for us? I don’t think that God necessarily wants us to give up everything we own, though He may call on individuals to do so. But Jesus makes it clear, falling on hard times is not an excuse to stop giving. We’ve all done it. For over a year I was working part time and my husband wasn’t working at all. We decided that we couldn’t afford to tithe, that instead we would just give when we had a little extra. (In hindsight, we could have at least tithed the $12 a month we were paying for Netflix…) But Jesus says that God will take care of us, we don’t need to hold on to every penny we earn. Instead we should trust God to give us what we need, and take the responsibility to give Him what He needs to take care of His people.
Jesus also doesn’t want us to parade our gifts. Showing off your contributions is worse than if you hadn’t given anything at all. Note to self: instead of buying a t-shirt for x-charitable organization, just donate the money. They get more profit, and I won’t be showing off. “Look how awesome I am, I donated to the American Cancer Society, so they gave me a t-shirt.” No.
Finally, don’t live in excess. God may not want us to give up everything, but He definitely doesn’t want us eating lobster every night while children starve. This is something I have struggled with for most of my adult life. Where does practicality end and excess begin? I need nice clothes for work, but is it wrong to spend $60 on a skirt? Even if I wear it every week? My husband and I try to eat healthy, but I hate spending so much money on food when I can buy a box of macaroni and cheese for less than a dollar. We bought a house this summer, because in our town it actually costs less to pay for a mortgage than rent. But should we have bought a smaller one? Do we really need a study? It’s a fine line I think, one that I’m often on the wrong side of. (My new computer, for example, was definitely a luxury, not a need.) I think the only thing we can do about it is pray, pray, pray. (Yet another thing I’m not really doing.) God will put on our hearts what He wants us to do.